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Affective Forecasting

What Is Affective Forecasting?

Affective forecasting is predicting how one will feel in the future. Researchers had long examined the idea of making predictions about the future, cognitively speaking, but psychologists Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert investigated the idea further. They looked into whether a person can estimate their future feelings. For example, would marrying a certain person bring happiness? Or would a move to a certain city boost one's mood? The pair coined the term affective forecasting in the 1990s.

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. Unfortunately, people cannot accurately take into account how they might feel in the future; instead, they tend to overestimate how positive or negative they would feel about future situations. Another example: When a person wants a certain item, such as a luxury car, that person anticipates immense extended joy. However, over time, that joy of owning that car will dissipate.

If people are such poor judges of how they will feel, perhaps the best way to predict one's feelings in a given situation may be to speak to those who have experienced the event themselves.

Do You Plan for the Worst?

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In affective forecasting, people try to plan for the worst outcome, and they try to anticipate the pleasure that will come. Here are some of the most common forms of forecasting in which people engage:

  • 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 later. A person’s momentary emotional state has a lot of influence over their future selves.
  • False consensus. People, unfortunately, overestimate how much other people will think like them, agree with them, or have the same values. People also overrate their own likability.
  • Temporal or time discounting. People want things in the moment, but not necessarily in the future. Saving money is a good example: If a person stashes money away now, will that person see more gain in the future?
  • Focalism. This is the inclination toward focusing on certain details of an event, and disregarding others. People may underestimate how an event will influence their thoughts and feelings. For example, if a person has just eaten a meal, then goes grocery shopping, that person will be less likely to anticipate future hunger, resulting in less food in the cart than they might actually need.
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