Why We Sometimes Prefer More Pain to Less
What’s the Latest Development?
Nobel prize-winning behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman has found that people tend to prefer larger quantities of pain if the experience finishes with a slight decrease in pain, as opposed to a shorter experience of pain which remains constant throughout. In a study of patients who had undergone colonoscopies (a generally agreed upon unpleasant experience), the duration of the procedure did not predict how they felt about it afterwards. Instead, it was the strength of their discomfort at its most intense, and the level of discomfort they felt towards the end of the procedure.
What’s the Big Idea?
Rather than calculate each moment of pleasure or pain using a mental ledger, our memories define our experiences by moments that seem more characteristic than how we actually felt at the time of the experience. Kahneman has called this phenomenon, in which our perception of an experience is determined by how it feels at its peak and how it ends, the Peak-End rule, and it has led him to wonder if doctors should not extend painful surgeries to give patients a better experience. One practical implication for your time off is this: Moments that are clearly defined as good experiences are more important than taking a lengthy vacation for its own sake.
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