Forgetting to Remember Our Experiences: People Overestimate How Much They Will Retrospect About Personal Events

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Abstract

People value experiences in part because of the memories they create. Yet, we find that people systematically overestimate how much they will retrospect about their experiences. This overestimation results from people focusing on their desire to retrospect about experiences, while failing to consider the experience’s limited enduring accessibility in memory. Consistent with this view, we find that desirability is a stronger predictor of forecasted retrospection than it is of reported retrospection, resulting in greater overestimation when the desirability of retrospection is higher. Importantly, the desire to retrospect does not change over time. Instead, past experiences become less top-of-mind over time and, as a result, people simply forget to remember. In line with this account, our results show that obtaining physical reminders of an experience reduces the overestimation of retrospection by increasing how much people retrospect, bringing their realized retrospection more in line with their forecasts (and aspirations). We further observe that the extent to which reported retrospection falls short of forecasted retrospection reliably predicts declining satisfaction with an experience over time. Despite this potential negative consequence of retrospection falling short of expectations, we suggest that the initial overestimation itself may in fact be adaptive. This possibility and other potential implications of this work are discussed.

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