Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Choosing What Makes Us Happy (6): Belief Bias

Although people lack accurate knowledge of basic psychological processes which make them happy, they do have beliefs about basic processes. These lay theories are developed over a period of time in situations where they are valid, but are then over-generalized to situations where they do not hold.

The common belief-biases are:

Contrast effects: A classic question which highlights our perception of the contrast effect is: ‘Will you enjoy a glass of wine more after sampling an expensive estate-bottled wine or a cheap table wine?’ People usually believe that when a product of superior quality is experienced, it diminishes the appeal of another product of lesser quality. However, in one study it was shown that although students believed that eating a tasty jellybean would reduce the enjoyment of a less tasty jelly bean at a later time; but this contrast actually was not observed.

Adaptation: People generally believe that repeated exposure to an event will decrease the pleasure it gives. People may in fact grow to enjoy a certain kind of music more as they repeatedly hear it.

More choice is better: People believe that having more options is always better. However, more choices can sometimes make people unhappy. For example, if employees are given a free trip to Paris, they are happy; if they are given a free trip to Hawaii they are happy. But if they are given a choice between the two trips, they will be less happy, whatever option they choose.

Certainty: It is generally believed that reducing uncertainty will increase happiness. However, certainty can reduce the pleasure of positive events and this is sometimes referred to as the ‘pleasure paradox’. Most people do not recognize this fact and under
some circumstances, seek certainties that diminish their pleasure rather than uncertainties that prolong it.

The organizer of a get-together may feel happy if she comes to know that many guests have praised the arrangements. She may not feel the same happiness, if she comes to know who had specifically praised her preparations.

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