New Study from Harvard’s Happyologist
When deciding which course of action will make us happiest, we often seek out facts to inform our decision. Seeing a movie may inspire a string of inquiries meant to predict the hedonic benefits of the outing: who’s the star? what time will we get out? Does the theater have that delicious bacon-flavored popcorn topping? But, a new study from Harvard’s happiness researcher Dan Gilbert points to a simpler predictive method: ask a friend. Or, for that matter, ask a stranger.
In a study published in Science this March, Gilbert and colleagues asked women to predict how much they would enjoy a speed date with a particular gentlemen suitor. Subjects were either provided with a short personal profile of their date, including a photo, or they were given a subjective rating from a stranger who had speed-dated this person previously. Subjects were then asked to make their predictions.
Though subjects in the personal profile condition were given all the information that one might typically seek out — age, hometown, favorite hang-out, and a reliable indicator of physical attractiveness — it was subjects in the stranger-recommendation condition who more accurately predicted their own enjoyment of the speed date. Still, when participants were asked afterwards which information (the profile or the stranger’s recommendation) would be more useful for predicting their enjoyment of a future date, they chose the former.
The lesson, in Gilbert’s words: “If you want to know how much you will enjoy an experience, you are better off knowing how much someone else enjoyed it than knowing anything about the experience itself.”
Also, check out this TED talk by Gilbert.
Photo by Pop!Talk
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