Bias du Jour #5

by F.

In one study, non-tenured professors estimated how happy they would be at various points in time after learning that they had or had not achieved tenure—a major life goal. Later, after the professors had either gotten tenure or not, they were asked about their level of happiness. The professors consistently overestimated the duration of their unhappiness after being denied tenure, suggesting that the “outcome of the tenure decision did not have a dramatic and robust influence” on the general happiness of the professors. This is

The Durability Bias: We tend to overestimate the duration of future negative and positive feeling states.

In other words, we tend to think it will take longer to recover from something bad happening that it really will, and we tend to think something good happening will make us happier for longer than it will. (We also tend to make mistakes about the intensity of these future emotional states, not just their duration, and the combination of these two facts is called “the impact bias:” impact = duration + intensity.)

Cite: Gilbert, D. T., Pinel, E. C., Wilson, T. D., Blumberg, S. J. & Wheatley, T. P. (1998). Immune neglect: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 617-638.