Wonder why half of all marriages end in divorce? According to a new study from the Journal of Consumer Research, we are more likely to pay attention to disappointment than to the ways in which our experiences exceed our expectations.
"Affective misforecasting" is the difference between the way we think we'll feel and the way we actually do. Vanessa Patrick (University of Georgia), Debbie MacInnis, and C. Whan Park (both, University of Southern California) find that we only pay attention to this difference when something fails to meet our expectations - for example, when married life, which we thought would be so wonderful, starts to lose its sheen.
"This research shows that when we feel better than we anticipated we would, we take it for granted, and it does not influence how we evaluate the product or service," write the researchers. "However, when we feel worse than we thought we would, we sit up and pay attention."
The researchers present the result of two interesting studies. In the first, they told participants that they were about to see a movie and provided them with reviews of the movie. About half received positive reviews (e.g., "Hilarious!" or "Pretty Wild!"), while the others received negative reviews (e.g., "Very boring!" or "Pretty Horrible!!"). They then watched a black-and-white film clip that had been previously tested to generate a neutral response.
Participants who anticipated watching a boring, horrible movie did not pay attention to the ways in which the movie was better than expected. However, those who had read the glowing reviews paid particular attention to the differences between their anticipated and actual feelings and rated the movie much lower.
"The lesson for marketers [is] be careful," the researchers write. "Hyping up the experience and raising expectations may not be a good idea, because if your product doesn't make them feel as good as you made them believe it would, you are shooting yourself in the foot."
Vanessa M. Patrick, Deborah J. MacInnis, and C. Whan Park. "Not as Happy as I Thought I'd be? Affective Misforecasting and Product Evaluations," Journal of Consumer Research: March 2007.