In The Optimism Bias, Sharot takes an in-depth, clarifying look at:
• how the brain generates hope and what happens when it fails
• how the brains of optimists and pessimists differ
• why we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy
• how emotions strengthen our ability to recollect
• how anticipation and dread affect us
• how our optimistic illusions affect our financial, professional, and emotional decisions
That is the time it takes to pour and serve a perfect pint of Guiness. The glass is held at exactly a forty-five-degree angle under the tap. Next, the famous double pour: The glass is filled up three-quarters of the way and left to settle. Once the bubbles settle, creating a creamy head, the glass is topped off.
Guiness has instituted the ‘perfect pint training program’, which ensures that wherever in the world Guiness is served, the double-pour technique is used, creating the perfect creamy, which is about one-third to one-half inch in depth.
Did the double-pour technique survive through the years simply because it creates a foamy head that does not overfill the glass?
Not at all.
The careful 119.5-second pour generates something much more important. It produces what some consider the most vital aspect of the Guiness experience–anticipation.
The value of anticipation
What the marketing people at Guiness tapped into was a central aspect of human nature we tend to overlook–the joy of savoring. Sometimes expecting a good thing is more pleasurable than actually experiencing it. When given the choice, people would rather wait a bit for a good thing than have it immediately.
In a survey conducted by George Loewenstein, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, undergraduate students were asked how much they would pay to receive a kiss from a celebrity of their choice. Imagine a passionate kiss from X (this is where you fill in the blank–Angelina? Brad? Patrick Dempsey? Uma Thurman?).
Loewenstein found that on average people would pay more to receive a kiss from a celebrity in a year than receive it immediately. An immediate kiss would leave zero time for anticipation. We would be giving up the thrill of the wait, the pleasure derived from imagining the expected kiss, considering how and where it would take place.
The fact that people decide to wait for a rewarding event rather than receive it immediately suggests that we derive pleasure from contemplating something that might happen later.
Why do people prefer Friday to Sunday?
When you ask people to rank the days of the week in order of preference, Friday is ranked higher than Sunday, although Friday is a workday and Sunday is not.
Would people rather work than play?
Not quite. Saturday, which is also a day of play, is ranked above both Friday and Sunday.
The reason is that Friday brings promise–the promise of the weekend ahead and all the activities (or non-activities) we have planned. Sunday, while a day of rest, does not bring with it the joy of anticipation.
The cost of dread
Consider another scenario: You are at the dentist’s office for your annual checkup. While examining your teeth, your dentist concludes that, unfortunately, you need a root canal. There is no patient scheduled after you, so the dentist can conduct the procedure right away. Alternatively, you can be penciled in for later that afternoon or for next week. What do you do?
When it comes to adverse events, most of us choose to get it over with as soon as possible. The reason is simple: We want to avoid the dread that comes with anticipating pain. Instead of spending our time worrying and fearing, we would rather face the pain immediately and be done with it.