EXPERIENCE NARRATIVES TARGETING THE DIRECTION OF BIAS REDUCE AFFECTIVE FORECASTING ERRORS
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). We sought to determine whether targeted narratives could reduce these mispredictions or 'affective forecasting errors.'
Method: In Study 1 (N=196), college students were surveyed about 10 common medical events (e.g. Pap test, donating blood) and provided ratings of predicted discomfort (if they had never experienced it) or actual discomfort. Participants making predictions were randomly assigned to either the control condition (no narratives) or the targeted narrative condition (4 narratives describing experiences with the medical event provided by participants in a pilot test; narratives were chosen to target the direction of bias observed in prior work) before making predictions.
In Study 2, college students (N=150) made predictions (Time 1) about the discomfort associated with the cold pressor task (keeping your hand in ice water 0-1°C for up to 2 minutes). Before making predictions, 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 (Time 2). Participants also reported their memory for the experienced discomfort one month later (Time 3).
Results: In Study 1, affective forecasting errors were observed for 8 of the 10 medical events. Specifically, predicted discomfort was significantly greater than reported discomfort, p<.05. Targeted narratives successfully reduced affective forecasting errors in 5 of the 8 events where bias was observed.
In the Study 2 cold pressor task, predicted discomfort was significantly less than reported discomfort, and negative narratives (which targeted the direction of the bias) again eliminated affective forecasting errors (Figure 1). However, participants in the positive narrative condition reported significantly less discomfort from the experience despite exhibiting forecasting errors, p<.05.
Conclusions: Affective forecasting errors can be improved with the use of narratives that target the direction of bias in prediction errors. However, stories that paint an overly positive impression, while still resulting in prediction errors, resulted in less experienced discomfort during an unpleasant task.