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Affective Forecasting

Affective forecasting, also known as hedonic forecasting, is predicting how you will feel in the future. Researchers had long examined the idea of making predictions about the future, but psychologists Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert investigated it further. They looked into whether a person can estimate their future feelings. For example, would marrying a certain person bring you happiness? Or would moving to a new city boost your mood? The researchers coined the term affective forecasting in the 1990s.

Why We Are Terrible at Predicting How We Will Feel

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In Wilson and Gilbert's research, they found that people misjudge what will make them happy and have trouble seeing through the filter of the present. They also discovered that how people feel in the moment blinds them, coloring the decisions they will make down the road. Because of this, affective forecasting is unreliable in decision-making.

Can people predict how they will feel in the future?

People tend to be inaccurate in forecasting how they might feel later. They also tend to overestimate how positive or negative they would feel about future situations. An example might be wishing to purchase a luxury car. You might anticipate immense and extended joy when you finally buy that car, however over time, the joy of owning that car will dissipate.

How can you improve your predictions about how you will feel?

You can try to plan for the worst outcome, or you can try to anticipate the pleasure that might come. But instead of making assumptions about how you might feel in any given situation, you could try speaking to people who have experienced the situation themselves.

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What Matters Now vs. What Matters Tomorrow

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There are various related tendencies that can work in tandem with affective forecasting. For example, we all deploy a bit of false consensus, whereby we think that everybody thinks like we do and wants what we do. Some of us also do not think about the needs of our future selves; time discounting is a focus on what matters today and not so much on what matters tomorrow.

What is projection bias?

This is the tendency to project one’s current preferences into the future. However, what one wants now may not be the same at a later date. A person’s momentary emotional state has a lot of influence over their future selves.

What is temporal, or time, discounting?

People think about what they want in this very moment, but not necessarily what they might want in the future. Saving money is one example of not having much regard for your future self: Stashing cash away now means you cannot buy that luxury car now. Yet, saving money now will mean more gain for you in the future.

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