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Evaluations of Happiness Are Skewed by Peaks and Ends

The Experience Sampling Method (ESM) and similar approaches are revolutionizing how we understand well-being by capturing real-time experiences, contrasting with traditional retrospective evaluations, which can be biased.


📖 In a cool new study, Julian Scharbert and colleagues tracked the happiness of 1,889 people in real time for a month using a mobile app. At the end of the study, participants also reported how happy they felt in general. 



🔑 The study reveals that people's global evaluations of well-being are significantly shaped by the most intense and recent moments of their experiences. Roughly one-third of the variance in people’s answers to the “How happy are you in general?” question can be directly tied to their single best or worst moment during the study period as well as how they are currently feeling.


This phenomenon, known as the peak-end rule, has been well-documented in lab settings, but the researchers now found compelling evidence of its impact in everyday life. 


💡Interestingly, the effect of peak and end moments on well-being assessments varies based on how questions are framed. For example, when asked, “Over the past four weeks, you have regularly indicated how you felt. What would you say was your average response to the statement, ‘I feel happy’?” participants’ responses were a lot less biased by extreme and current experiences. While experience sampling probably remains the most accurate way to assess people’s well-being, the study suggests that we might be able to reduce bias in well-being evaluations by asking more specific questions. 


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