Tuesday, October 21, 2014: 11:15 AM

Victoria A. Shaffer, PhD1, Elizabeth Focella, PhD1, Laura D. Scherer, PhD1, Melana Salisbury, BA1 and Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, PhD2, (1)University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, (2)University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Purpose: People typically overestimate the unpleasantness of medical experiences and may avoid important screenings (Dillard et al., 2010) or medical procedures with long-term health benefits (Angott et al., 2013). The purpose of this research is to determine whether experience narratives can reduce these mispredictions or ‘affective forecasting errors.’

Method: In Study 1 (N=366), participants were surveyed about their experiences with 10 common medical events (e.g. Pap test, donating blood). Those who had never experienced the event provided ratings of predicted discomfort and those who had experienced the event provided ratings of actual discomfort. Participants making predictions were randomly assigned to either the control condition (no narratives) or the narrative condition (4 narratives describing experiences with the medical event provided by participants in a pilot test) before making predictions. To evaluate affective forecasting errors, we compared predicted experiences with actual experiences for each medical event in a between-subjects comparison.

In Study 2, participants (N=203) made predictions about the discomfort associated with the cold pressor task (keeping your hand in ice water 1-2°C for up to 2 minutes). Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: 1) control (no narratives), 2) positive narratives (2 stories describing the task as not painful), or 3) negative narratives (2 stories describing the task as painful). Narratives were selected from an earlier cold pressor study. All participants completed the cold pressor task and then immediately provided ratings of the discomfort experienced. To evaluate affective forecasting errors, we compared participants’ predictions of discomfort to their ratings of the discomfort experienced.

Result: In Study 1, affective forecasting errors were observed for 6 of the 10 medical events; specifically, predicted discomfort was significantly greater than experienced discomfort, p<.05. However, experience narratives did not improve affective forecasting errors and, counterintuitively, narratives made predictions worse for 2 of the medical events, p<.05. In Study 2, affective forecasting errors were also observed, however this time predicted discomfort was significantly less than experienced discomfort, p<.05. Further, the use of negative experience narratives successfully reduced the bias in predictions; see Figure 1. 

Conclusion: Affective forecasting errors can be improved with the use of narratives that emphasize unanticipated elements of the experience. However, narratives must be carefully selected because less focused stories may actually increase bias.