100 Things You Should Know About People: #76 — Anticipation Trumps The Actual Experience

Ad for 4 weeks vacationYou are planning a trip, 7 months away, with your sister to the Cayman Islands. The two of you talk on the phone at least once a week, discuss the snorkeling you plan to do, and talk about the restaurants that are close to the place you are staying. You look forward to the trip for a long time.

Anticipation vs. reality — Contrast that with the actual experience of the trip and you may find that the anticipation was better than the trip. In fact, Terence Mitchell (1997) conducted research on just this situation. He studied people who were taking either a trip to Europe, a short trip over the USA Thanksgiving holiday weekend, or a 3-week bicycle tour of California.

Trip ratings differ — Before the event people looked forward to the trip with positive emotions, but during the trip their ratings of the trip were not that positive. The little disappointments that always occur while traveling colored their emotional landscape to the point where they felt less positive about the trip in general. Interestingly, a few days after the trip, the memories became rosy again.

How to Have A Great Vacation and Great Memories — While we are on the subject of vacations, here are some interesting bits of information from a variety of research. To get the most enjoyment out of vacations:

  • Several short vacations are better than one long one
  • How the vacation ends affects your long term memory of it more than what happened at the beginning or middle
  • Having an intense “peak” experience makes you more likely to remember the trip positively, even if the intense experience wasn’t necessarily positive
  • Interrupting a trip makes you enjoy the uninterrupted part even more

What do you think? If you ask customers for feedback on a product or website should you ask them while they are doing it? Or later when things are “rosy”? And if you say you want to get more “honest” feedback, which is the more honest?

For those of you who like to read the research:

Mitchell, T. R., Thompson, L., Peterson, E., & Cronk, R. (1997). Temporal adjustments in the evaluation of events: The “rosy view”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33(4), 421-448.