Monday, March 29, 2010

Heat of the Moment Decisions affect future behavior too

This is a really important new finding from my favorite behavioral economist. Most of us realize that in the heat of the moment, we often make poor decisions. When we are feeling particularly good, we are more generous, kind, compassionate, etc. When we are feeling bad, we are more snappy, curt, stingy, and mean.

But this new finding shows that the impact of these decisions sticks with us. Even after our emotion chills out, we are still more likely to be generous, kind and compassionate or snappy, curt, and stingy for a longer time period. This particular study is more medium term than long term, but I am going to extrapolate to the even longer term potential impact that it suggests. Because of the really dangerous implications, it's worth thinking about seriously, not just speculatively.

Because we now have a past behavior, the experience becomes part of our long term schema. To avoid cognitive dissonance (which includes the desire to be consistent in our behaviors over time), we look at our past experiences, even when they are out of character, and rationalize them (come on - you know you have all done this!!). So if you act more generous, kind, or compassionate at one time - the memory of this act will make us more generous, kind and compassionate in the future. Same thing for snappy, curt, and stingy. Even when the original act was out of character and we know it was out of character.

So this is even more reason to be careful about your emotional reactions. You may be willing to act out of character once. But are you willing for this to become part of your permanent self-image? It will!!