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Pain: Our Experiencing Selves -vs- Memory - Chicago Burlesque Dancer Red Hot Annie Weinert
She really makes the wieners boil!

Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
Date: 2012-03-28 11:55
Subject: Pain: Our Experiencing Selves -vs- Memory
Security: Public
I'm just finishing up this great book called "Thinking: Fast & Slow" which really undermines the idea that our judgements and decisions are rational.

One of the chapters that struck me in particular dealt with "pain" - in the chapter, the author (Daniel Kahneman) demonstrates how we are willing to tolerate longer periods of subdued pain over shorter periods of more extreme pain. His experiment was, essentially, to have subjects put their hand in:

(1) extraordinarily uncomfortable cold water for 60 seconds
(2) extraordinarily uncomfortable cold water for 60 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of slightly less uncomfortable cold water (although still painful)

The result? People preferred option #2!

Their memory of the painful incident had nothing to do with the duration of the pain, and everything to do with the peak feeling of pain and how it felt at the end.

One of my favorite tidbits from the book is here:

"In the cold-hand experiement, the error reflects two principles of memory: duration neglect and the peak-end rule. The mechanisms are different but the outcome is the same: a decision that is not correctly attuned to the experience.
Decisions that do not produce the best possible experience and erroneous forecasts of future feelings - both are bad news for believers in the rationality of choice...Tastes and decisions are shaped by memories, and the memories can be wrong. The evidence presents a profound challenge to the idea that humans have consistent preferences and know how to maximize them, a cornerstone in the rational-agent model."

Indeed, I think about all the relationships I've personally abandoned because of a particularly sharp and painful moment, plus the pain of deterioration as the relationship was ending! Regardless of all the good things within the relationship, I sometimes shrug the whole thing off as an ugly experience with an ugly person!

It doesn't change a whole lot, but at least I take solace in knowing that it's irrational...but inately human! Great book - I highly recommend it for folks who are interested in behavior, communication, and how our brains work!


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