Daniel T. Gilbert's research while affiliated with Harvard University and other places

Publications (105)

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We hypothesized that people would exhibit a reticence bias, the incorrect belief that they will be more likable if they speak less than half the time in a conversation with a stranger, as well as halo ignorance, the belief that their speaking time should depend on their goal (e.g., to be liked vs. to be found interesting), when in fact, perceivers...
Article
Everyone knows that if you want to learn how to do something, you should get advice from people who do it well. But is everyone right? In a series of studies ( N = 8,693), adult participants played a game after receiving performance advice from previous participants. Although advice from the best-performing advisors was no more beneficial than advi...
Article
We investigated intentional thinking for pleasure, defined as the deliberate attempt to have pleasant thoughts while disengaged from the external world. We propose a Trade-Off model that explains when and why thinking for pleasure is enjoyable: People focus on personally meaningful thoughts when thinking for pleasure (especially when prompted to do...
Article
When left to their own devices, people could choose to enjoy their own thoughts. But recent work suggests they do not. When given the freedom, people do not spontaneously choose to think for pleasure, and when directed to do so, struggle to concentrate successfully. Moreover, people find it somewhat boring and much less enjoyable than other solitar...
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Significance Social connection is essential to physical and psychological well-being, and conversation is the primary means by which it is achieved. And yet, scientists know little about it—about how it starts, how it unfolds, or how it ends. Our studies attempted to remedy this deficit, and their results were surprising: conversations almost never...
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Harris and Busseri [Harris, H., & Busseri, M.A. (2019). Is there an ‘end of history illusion’ for life satisfaction? Evidence from a three-wave longitudinal study. Journal of Research in Personality, 83, 103869] examined the changes in life satisfaction people predicted vs. experienced for 30-years based on the three waves of the Midlife in the Uni...
Preprint
This chapter is concerned with a type of thinking that has received little attention, namely intentional “thinking for pleasure”—the case in which people deliberately focus solely on their thoughts with the goal of generating positive affect. We present a model that describes why it is difficult to enjoy one's thoughts, how it can be done successfu...
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Which is more enjoyable: trying to think enjoyable thoughts or doing everyday solitary activities? Wilson et al. (2014) found that American participants much preferred solitary everyday activities, such as reading or watching TV, to thinking for pleasure. To see whether this preference generalized outside of the United States, we replicated the stu...
Article
Perceptual and judgment creep Do we think that a problem persists even when it has become less frequent? Levari et al. show experimentally that when the “signal” a person is searching for becomes rare, the person naturally responds by broadening his or her definition of the signal—and therefore continues to find it even when it is not there. From l...
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People find it difficult to enjoy their own thoughts when asked to do so, but what happens when they are asked to think about whatever they want? Do they find thinking more or less enjoyable? In the present studies, we show that people are more successful in enjoying their thoughts when instructed to do so. We present evidence in support of four re...
Article
Can people enjoy thinking if they set their mind to it? Previous work suggests that many people do not enjoy the deliberate attempt to have pleasurable thoughts. We suggest that deliberately thinking for pleasure requires mental resources that people are either unwilling or unable to devote to the task. If so, then people should enjoy pleasant thou...
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People often tell each other stories about their past experiences. But do they tell the right ones? Speakers and listeners predicted that listeners would enjoy hearing novel stories (i.e., stories about experiences the listeners had never had) more than familiar stories (i.e., stories about experiences the listeners had already had). In fact, liste...
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Significance Human beings care a great deal about the fairness of the procedures that are used to allocate resources, such as wealth, opportunity, and power. But in a series of experiments, we show that those to whom resources are allocated often care less about fairness than those who allocate the resources expect them to. This “allocator’s illusi...
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One of the most powerful rules of interpersonal behavior is that people are kinder to members of their in-groups than to members of their out-groups. Are people also kinder to their future selves when they expect them to remain members of their current in-groups rather than become members of their current out-groups? In 2 studies, participants in a...
Article
We suggest that when confronted with evidence of their socially inappropriate thoughts and feelings, people are sometimes less likely-and not more likely-to acknowledge them because evidence can elicit psychological responses that inhibit candid self-reflection. In 3 studies, participants were induced to exhibit racial bias (Study 1) or to experien...
Article
A paper from the Open Science Collaboration (Research Articles, 28 August 2015, aac4716) attempting to replicate 100 published studies suggests that the reproducibility of psychological science is surprisingly low. We show that this article contains three statistical errors and provides no support for such a conclusion. Indeed, the data are consist...
Article
When predicting how much they will like something they have not encountered before, people use three commonsense theories: It is better to have a description of the attitude object than to know how someone else felt about it (“I know better than others”), better to know how a friend felt about it than how a stranger felt (“birds of a feather”), and...
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Members of East Asian cultures are more likely to conform in public settings than are members of Western cultures. Little research has examined, however, whether East Asians are more likely to privately accept the views held by others. In two studies we gave European American and Korean participants descriptions of unusual food combinations, inform...
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We thank Fox et al. (2014) for their interest in our research and welcome this opportunity to respond to their commentary. They argue that participants in our studies enjoyed “just thinking” more than we claimed (Wilson et al., 2014). We found some irony in their position, because we began this line of research with a similar hypothesis. As the dat...
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People seek extraordinary experiences-from drinking rare wines and taking exotic vacations to jumping from airplanes and shaking hands with celebrities. But are such experiences worth having? We found that participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences that were superior to those had by their peers, but that having had such experiences spoiled...
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Don't leave me alone with my thoughts Nowadays, we enjoy any number of inexpensive and readily accessible stimuli, be they books, videos, or social media. We need never be alone, with no one to talk to and nothing to do. Wilson et al. explored the state of being alone with one's thoughts and found that it appears to be an unpleasant experience. In...
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A substantial body of research on affective forecasting has found that people often overestimate the affective impact of future events. Levine, Lench, Kaplan, and Safer (2012) argued that whereas people may overestimate the duration of their emotional responses, they do not overestimate the initial intensity of these responses as much as previous r...
Article
Do people take risks to obtain rewards or experience suspense? We hypothesized that people vulnerable to gambling are motivated more by the allure of winning money whereas people less vulnerable to gambling are motivated more by the allure of suspense. Consistent with this hypothesis, participants with high scores on a subscale of the Gambling Atti...
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Older and Wiser Do we ever stop growing up? Quoidbach et al. (p. 96 ) elicited estimates of people's personality, values, and choices and compared how much, for instance, 33-year-olds believed that they would change in the next 10 years with how much 43-year-olds reported that they had changed in the past 10 years. For groups spanning 18 to 68 year...
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Although we tend to think of unhappiness as something that happens to us when we do not get what we want, much unhappiness has less to do with not getting what we want, and more to do with not wanting what we like. When wanting and liking are uncoordinated in this way one can say that a person has miswanted. How is it possible to get what we want...
Article
Our brains are hard-wired to make poor choices about harm prevention in today's world. But we can fight it, says Daniel Gilbert.
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Salience and satisfaction are important factors in determining the comparisons that people make. We hypothesized that people make salient comparisons first, and then make satisfying comparisons only if salient comparisons leave them unsatisfied. This hypothesis suggests an asymmetry between winning and losing. For winners, comparison with a salient...
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This chapter reviews studies on how humans generate mental simulations or previews of future events, which cause them to have affective reactions or premotions, which they then use as a basis for forecasts or predictions about the event's likely emotional consequences. Accurate predictions require that the content of previews be similar to the cont...
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The relationship between money and happiness is surprisingly weak, which may stem in part from the way people spend it. Drawing on empirical research, we propose eight principles designed to help consumers get more happiness for their money. Specifically, we suggest that consumers should (1) buy more experiences and fewer material goods; (2) use th...
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This research qualifies a social psychological truism: that people like others who like them (the reciprocity principle). College women viewed the Facebook profiles of four male students who had previously seen their profiles. They were told that the men (a) liked them a lot, (b) liked them only an average amount, or (c) liked them either a lot or...
Article
The hedonic value of an outcome can be influenced by the alternatives to which it is compared, which is why people expect to be happier with outcomes that maximize comparative value (e.g., the best of several mediocre alternatives) than with outcomes that maximize absolute value (e.g., the worst of several excellent alternatives). The results of fi...
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We developed a smartphone technology to sample people’s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions and found (i) that people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and (ii) found that doing so typically makes them unhappy.
Article
People often make shortsighted decisions to receive small benefits in the present rather than large benefits in the future, that is, to favor their current selves over their future selves. In two studies using fMRI, we demonstrated that people make such decisions in part because they fail to engage in the same degree of self-referential processing...
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In many choices they make—-for example, choosing between a movie and a play or deciding whether to attend a sports game shortly before a birthday party—-consumers are guided by how they expect an event will make them feel. They may predict their feelings by forecasting (imagining their feelings when the impacting event occurs, then considering how...
Article
People typically demand more to relinquish the goods they own than they would be willing to pay to acquire those goods if they did not already own them (the endowment effect). The standard economic explanation of this phenomenon is that people expect the pain of relinquishing a good to be greater than the pleasure of acquiring it (the loss aversion...
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People typically choose pleasure over pain. But how do they know which of these their choices will entail? The brain generates mental simulations (previews) of future events, which produce affective reactions (premotions), which are then used as a basis for forecasts (predictions) about the future event's emotional consequences. Research shows that...
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Although negative expectations may have the benefit of softening the blow when a negative event occurs, they also have the cost of making people feel worse while they are waiting for that event to happen. Three studies suggest that the cost of negative expectations is greater than the benefit. In 2 laboratory experiments and a field study, people f...
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Two experiments revealed that (i) people can more accurately predict their affective reactions to a future event when they know how a neighbor in their social network reacted to the event than when they know about the event itself and (ii) people do not believe this. Undergraduates made more accurate predictions about their affective reactions to a...
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Uncertainty has been defined as a lack of information about an event and has been characterized as an aversive state that people are motivated to reduce. The authors propose an uncertainty intensification hypothesis, whereby uncertainty during an emotional event makes unpleasant events more unpleasant and pleasant events more pleasant. The authors...
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People expect to reap hedonic rewards when they punish an offender, but in at least some instances, revenge has hedonic consequences that are precisely the opposite of what people expect. Three studies showed that (a) one reason for this is that people who punish continue to ruminate about the offender, whereas those who do not punish "move on" and...
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The authors hypothesized that thinking about the absence of a positive event from one's life would improve affective states more than thinking about the presence of a positive event but that people would not predict this when making affective forecasts. In Studies 1 and 2, college students wrote about the ways in which a positive event might never...
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The temporal location of an event influences the way people mentally represent that event. We suggest (a) that such representational differences can produce an affective forecasting error that we call future anhedonia, which is the belief that hedonic states will be less intense in the future than in the present, and (b) that future anhedonia plays...
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We propose a model of affective adaptation, the processes whereby affective responses weaken after one or more exposures to emotional events. Drawing on previous research, our approach, represented by the acronym AREA, holds that people attend to self-relevant, unexplained events, react emotionally to these events, explain or reach an understanding...
Article
A series of studies shows that people value future events more than equivalent events in the equidistant past. Whether people imagined being compensated or compensating others, they required and offered more compensation for events that would take place in the future than for identical events that had taken place in the past. This temporal value as...
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People often expect interactions with outgroup members to go poorly, but little research examines the accuracy of these expectations, reasons why expectations might be negatively biased, and ways to bring expectations in line with experiences. The authors found that intergroup interactions were more positive than people expected them to be (Pilot S...
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The hedonic benefit of a gain (e.g., receiving $100) may be increased by segregating it into smaller units that are distributed over time (e.g., receiving $50 on each of 2 days). However, if these units are too small (e.g., receiving 1 cent on each of 10,000 days), they may fall beneath the person's hedonic limen and have no hedonic benefit at all....
Article
We predicted that a state of uncertainty would prolong a positive mood, but that people would not anticipate this when making affective forecasts. In Study 1, participants learned that they had won one prize (certain condition), two prizes (two-gift condition), or one of two prizes (uncertain condition). People in the uncertain condition were in a...
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All animals can predict the hedonic consequences of events they've experienced before. But humans can predict the hedonic consequences of events they've never experienced by simulating those events in their minds. Scientists are beginning to understand how the brain simulates future events, how it uses those simulations to predict an event's hedoni...
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Loss aversion occurs because people expect losses to have greater hedonic impact than gains of equal magnitude. In two studies, people predicted that losses in a gambling task would have greater hedonic impact than would gains of equal magnitude, but when people actually gambled, losses did not have as much of an emotional impact as they predicted....
Chapter
One of the main themes that has emerged from behavioral decision research during the past three decades is the view that people's preferences are often constructed in the process of elicitation. This idea is derived from studies demonstrating that normatively equivalent methods of elicitation (e.g., choice and pricing) give rise to systematically d...
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Atypical events are both memorable and unrepresentative of their class. We tested the hypotheses that (a) people tend to recall atypical instances of events, and (b) when they are unaware of this, they rely on these atypical instances in forecasting their affective reactions to future events. In three studies, participants who were asked to recall...
Article
People base many decisions on affective forecasts, predictions about their emotional reactions to future events. They often display an impact bias, overestimating the intensity and duration of their emotional reactions to such events. One cause of the impact bias is focalism, the tendency to underestimate the extent to which other events will influ...
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The authors hypothesized that uncertainty following a positive event prolongs the pleasure it causes and that people are generally unaware of this effect of uncertainty. In 3 experimental settings, people experienced a positive event (e.g., received an unexpected gift of a dollar coin attached to an index card) under conditions of certainty or unce...
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Decisions are powerfully affected by anticipated regret, and people anticipate feeling more regret when they lose by a narrow margin than when they lose by a wide margin. But research suggests that people are remarkably good at avoiding self-blame, and hence they may be better at avoiding regret than they realize. Four studies measured people's ant...
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These studies examined the conditions under which people engage in anticipatory construal before an evaluative event versus reconstrual after the event. Computer software informed college students that there was a 1.5%, 12%, 88%, or 98.5% chance that an opposite-sex student would pick them for a hypothetical date. When people had extreme expectatio...
Article
Intense hedonic states trigger psychological processes that are designed to attenuate them, and thus intense states may abate more quickly than mild states. Because people are unaware of these psychological processes, they may mistakenly expect intense states to last longer than mild ones. In Study 1, participants predicted that the more they initi...
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People tend to overestimate the emotional consequences of future life events, exhibiting an impact bias. The authors replicated the impact bias in a real-life context in which undergraduates were randomly assigned to dormitories (or "houses"). Participants appeared to focus on the wrong factors when imagining their future happiness in the houses. T...
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People often overestimate the impact future events will have on their happiness. People may also show a retrospective impact bias, overestimating the impact of past events on their happiness, explaining why they do not learn from experience and correct their forecasts. We found such a bias for positive events; e.g., supporters of George Bush overes...
Article
People prefer to make changeable decisions rather than unchangeable decisions because they do not realize that they may be more satisfied with the latter. Photography students believed that having the opportunity to change their minds about which prints to keep would not influence their liking of the prints. However, those who had the opportunity t...
Article
Decisions are often based on predictions of the hedonic consequences of future events. We suggest that people make such predictions by imagining the event without temporal context (atemporal representation), assuming that their reaction to the event would be similar to their reaction to the imagined event (proxy reactions), and then considering how...
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Collaboration between social psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists is giving rise to a new approach that its practitioners call 'social cognitive neuroscience'. Scientists from each discipline are using the theories and techniques of the other to generate new answers to fundamental questions about attitudes, beliefs, the self, moral judgment,...
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Examines the question of why people believe that future events will have greater emotional impact than they actually do. It is argued that our ability to imagine the future, remember the past, and foresee the transformations that events will undergo as we interrogate and explain them, is limited, and therefore our ability to predict our own emotion...
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Do people learn from experience that emotional reactions to events are often short-lived? Two studies indicate that it depends on whether the events are positive or negative. People who received positive or negative feedback on a test were not as happy or unhappy as they would have predicted. People in the positive feedback condition did not learn...
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In two studies, we investigated the roles of explicit memory and attentional resources in the process of behavior-induced attitude change. Although most theories of attitude change (cognitive dissonance and self-perception theories) assume an important role for both mechanisms, we propose that behavior-induced attitude change can be a relatively au...
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People typically underestimate their capacity to generate satisfaction with future outcomes. When people experience such self-generated satisfaction, they may mistakenly conclude that it was caused by an influential, insightful, and benevolent external agent. In three laboratory experiments, participants who were allowed to generate satisfaction wi...
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Research suggests that people initially take their subjective experience of an object as an accurate reflection of the object's properties, and only subsequently, occasionally, and effortfully consider the possibility that their experience was influenced by extraneous factors. The two studies reported here demonstrate that this is true even when th...
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The durability bias, the tendency to overpredict the duration of affective reactions to future events, may be due in part to focalism, whereby people focus too much on the event in question and not enough on the consequences of other future events. If so, asking people to think about other future activities should reduce the durability bias. In Stu...
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People are generally unaware of the operation of the system of cognitive mechanisms that ameliorate their experience of negative affect (the psychological immune system), and thus they tend to overestimate the duration of their affective reactions to negative events. This tendency was demonstrated in 6 studies in which participants overestimated th...