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Wonder Why Those Happy Memories Fade? You’re Programmed That Way

Summary: A new study from USC finds people often over-estimate how much we will think about, or talk of, happy memories.

Source: USC.

New USC Marshall research suggests that people overestimate how much they’ll recall from a good time in their life: “People simply forget to remember”.

“We’ll always have Paris.” Or will we?

New research from the USC Marshall School of Business indicates that hoping for lifelong memories of a happy time might only be wishful thinking.

Stephanie Tully, assistant professor of marketing at USC Marshall, and Tom Meyvis, marketing professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, published their findings in “Forgetting to Remember Our Experiences: People Overestimate How Much They Will Retrospect About Personal Events,” which appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The article is based on part of Tully’s doctoral dissertation.

While it’s common to anticipate the joys of looking back on something as special as a romantic trip to Paris, for instance, their research shows that we often overestimate how much we will actually think of, or talk about, these pleasant memories. Indeed, the research suggests that the more people expect to remember, the higher their overestimation will be.

Darn those distractions!

Part of the problem is that we forget to remember. We think we will remember this experience forever — but don’t factor in the distractions of everyday life, which render that fond memory harder and harder to access.

In two experiments, Tully and Meyvis show that participants who thought about a future experience predicted they would think about and talk about their experience more often than other participants reported actually having done for a past experience.

The authors then demonstrated these effects in longitudinal studies, where they could examine the same participants across time. In one study, participants went to a U.S. Open tennis tournament and one day later predicted they would reminisce much more than they reported doing two months later. Moreover, the more they enjoyed the tennis matches, the more they overestimated.

In other studies, Tully and Meyvis found that this overestimation extends to other forms of retrospection, like looking at photos from an African safari and tweeting about Beyond Wonderland, an expensive music festival.

Image shows postcards of Paris.

It’s common to anticipate the joys of looking back on something as special as a romantic trip to Paris. NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the USC news release.

The studies confirmed that this effect isn’t because people lose interest.

“Importantly, the desire to retrospect does not change over time,” Tully said. “Instead, past experiences become less top-of-mind over time, and as a result, people simply forget to remember.”

Buy a memento

In a final study, the researchers looked at the impact of buying mementos. Specifically, people who purchased merchandise or professional photos of the studied event (a fun run) did not predict they would recall or talk about the race more than others, but two months later they did report talking about the experience and looking at photos more often. Importantly, having access to digital photos was not as effective.

“These results are consistent with the view that actual retrospection is strongly dependent on the accessibility of the experience, which is aided by visible mementos,” Tully and Meyvis wrote.

In other words, if you want a souvenir, go for it. With that miniature Eiffel Tower sitting on your desk, you’ll definitely always have Paris.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Julie Riggott – USC
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the USC news release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Forgetting to Remember Our Experiences: People Overestimate How Much They Will Retrospect About Personal Events” by Tully, Stephanie and Meyvis, Tom in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online June 5 2017 doi:10.1037/pspa0000094

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
USC “Wonder Why Those Happy Memories Fade? You’re Programmed That Way.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 19 July 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/fading-happy-memories-7120/>.
USC (2017, July 19). Wonder Why Those Happy Memories Fade? You’re Programmed That Way. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved July 19, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/fading-happy-memories-7120/
USC “Wonder Why Those Happy Memories Fade? You’re Programmed That Way.” http://neurosciencenews.com/fading-happy-memories-7120/ (accessed July 19, 2017).

Abstract

Forgetting to Remember Our Experiences: People Overestimate How Much They Will Retrospect About Personal Events

People value experiences in part because of the memories they create. Yet, we find that people systematically overestimate how much they will retrospect about their experiences. This overestimation results from people focusing on their desire to retrospect about experiences, while failing to consider the experience’s limited enduring accessibility in memory. Consistent with this view, we find that desirability is a stronger predictor of forecasted retrospection than it is of reported retrospection, resulting in greater overestimation when the desirability of retrospection is higher. Importantly, the desire to retrospect does not change over time. Instead, past experiences become less top-of-mind over time and, as a result, people simply forget to remember. In line with this account, our results show that obtaining physical reminders of an experience reduces the overestimation of retrospection by increasing how much people retrospect, bringing their realized retrospection more in line with their forecasts (and aspirations). We further observe that the extent to which reported retrospection falls short of forecasted retrospection reliably predicts declining satisfaction with an experience over time. Despite this potential negative consequence of retrospection falling short of expectations, we suggest that the initial overestimation itself may in fact be adaptive. This possibility and other potential implications of this work are discussed.

“Forgetting to Remember Our Experiences: People Overestimate How Much They Will Retrospect About Personal Events” by Tully, Stephanie and Meyvis, Tom in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online June 5 2017 doi:10.1037/pspa0000094

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