Dan Gilbert: How to Predict What You'll Like? Ask a Stranger
Article Introduction (Via Time)
To figure out whether you’ll like the restaurant around the corner or that new guy in accounting or a vacation in Madrid, or just about anything else you’ve never personally experienced, try asking a stranger who has. That person is more likely to predict — more accurately than you — your future reaction, according to a new study published in the March 20 issue of Science.
Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, the best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness, argues that people who try to imagine how much they will like or dislike a future event (a blind date, say) are usually wildly off the mark, and that the most reliable measure of their future response seems to be that of someone who has already experienced the event — rather than any actual information about the event itself — even if that person is a stranger.
Indeed, Gilbert and his co-authors cite previous research showing people’s scant ability to predict their future feelings about most things: “people have been shown to overestimate how unhappy they will be after receiving bad test results, becoming disabled or being denied a promotion, and to overestimate how happy they will be after winning a prize, initiating a romantic relationship or taking revenge against those who have harmed them.”
Additional Article Excerpts (Via Time)
But such is the resistance to this proposition — people like to think of themselves as unique, self-aware individuals who can predict their own responses — that even after being shown how muddleheaded their own predictions tend to be, people still prefer to rely on them rather than seeking advice from others, Gilbert’s study found.
Gilbert and his co-authors from Harvard and the University of Virginia say the findings aren’t altogether surprising. People all over the world share similar reactions to stimuli; common evolutionary “physiological mechanisms” would explain why people, regardless of culture or belief, generally prefer “warm to cold, satiety to hunger, friends to enemies, winning to losing and so on.” The authors write, “An alien who knew all the likes and dislikes of a single human being would know a great deal about the entire species.”
“What we’ve done is found a way for people to make highly reliable predictions via a method that they would find preposterous, which is simply to say, ‘I’ll have what she’s having,'” he says.
After a pause, he corrects himself with a laugh: “You know what, by saying that I’m almost sure I’m falling prey to all these biases. That’s the nature of these biases. They don’t go away just because you know about them.”