Great expectations: The effects of mental simulation on affective experience



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Texas Tech University


Research has examined how thinking about the future makes us feel as well as how we think that the future will make us feel. However, the effects of thinking about the future on our future experiences have not been investigated. The current research introduces a model to explain how thinking about pleasant future events might influence our experience of those events. The model holds that representations of pleasant future events may be idealized, and that thinking about pleasant future events may result in more extreme affective expectations for those events. However, the effects that expectations have on experience will depend on whether or not a discrepancy between expectations and experience is noticed. When a discrepancy is not noticed, positive expectations result in more positive experiences. However, when a discrepancy is noticed, positive expectations result in less positive expectations.

Various predictions of the model were tested in a series of four experiments. In all experiments, participants ate a mediocre chocolate-chip cookie and reported their enjoyment of the cookie. As previous research has demonstrated that cognitive load makes noticing a discrepancy between expectations and experience more likely, some participants ate the cookie while under cognitive load. Experiment 1 found that only participants low in need for cognition who ate the cookie under cognitive load showed assimilation to expectations. In Experiment 2, participants who provided their expectations after simulating the cookie did not report significantly higher expectations for the cookie than those who provided their expectations before simulating the cookie. Experiment 3 provided some evidence that cookie simulation resulted in greater enjoyment of the cookie, but no evidence that cookie simulation resulted in more positive expectations for the cookie, or that cognitive load moderated the relationship between expectations and experience. Experiment 4 provided no support for any of the predictions of the model. Possible problems related to operationalization of the model are discussed, as are the theoretical implications of both the obtained and unobtained results.



Affective expectations, Affective assimilation