Thinking, Fast and Slow
Decisions that do not produce the best possible experience and erroneous forecasts of future feelings—both are bad news for believers in the rationality of choice. The cold-hand study showed that we cannot fully trust our preferences to reflect our interests, even if they are based on personal experience, and even if the memory of that experience was laid down within the last quarter of an hour! Tastes and decisions are shaped by memories, and the memories can be wrong. The evidence presents a profound challenge to the idea that humans have consistent preferences and know how to maximize them, a cornerstone of the rational-agent model. An inconsistency is built into the design of our minds. We have strong preferences about the duration of our experiences of pain and pleasure. We want pain to be brief and pleasure to last. But our memory, a function of System 1, has evolved to represent the most intense moment of an episode of pain or pleasure (the peak) and the feelings when the episode was at its end. A memory that neglects duration will not serve our preference for long pleasure and short pains.
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