People tend to have a certain idea of how certain events may affect our emotional lives long-term. We hope that events such as losing a child, be fired from your job, receive an award for our contribution to scientific, to suffer a marriage break-up,… because of its importance, leave us a footprint significant emotional that will accompany us for a long time. These expectations are important, because our actions are based on the emotional consequences of future events.
However, although we can predict with some accuracy the intensity of the emotions future that can provoke us to an event, that does not mean that we are able to estimate the duration of those feelings. And often it is the prediction of the duration that determines our decisions.
In fact, psychologist Daniel Gilbert discovered a few years ago that our predictions about how we’ll feel in the future, and on the duration of our emotions, they tend to be erroneous. According to Gilbert, this failure of prediction has to do with not being aware of a set of psychological mechanisms of defense against adversity, that he baptized as the “immune system psychological”.
Gilbert is a recognized expert in the scientific study of happiness, and that type of study is receiving renewed attention, in part thanks to the wonderful book of Daniel Kahneman think fast, Think slow. Although the studies of Gilbert have since more than a decade, and have been the subject of extensive comments, is it worth it to them we devote our attention in this blog. The issue of the immune system psychological was explored by Gilbert and his collaborators in the article Immune Neglect: a source of durability bias in affective forecasting, although it is also mentioned in another study famous, Miswanting: some problems in the forecasting of affective states.
According to Gilbert, the intuition of common sense is that the events more shocking must have some emotional consequences long-lasting. But what is certain is that this is often not the case: several studies showed that happiness levels tend to return to a basal state after a relatively short time. And, what is more, extreme experiences such as losing a son in an accident seem to have a minor impact on the long-term happiness of what one would expect.
Thus, people tend to overestimate the duration of affective responses to future events, so producing a bias term. Although Gilbert and his co-workers proposed 6 causes that would explain these errors of estimation, they focused their attention on a very special phenomenon: ignorance of the effects of our immune system to psychological (so-called immune neglect”).
But, what is this immune system? The immune system psychological is a set of mechanisms by which our minds tend to ignore, rebuild, and transform information that can lead to negative effects for our well-being. In fact, they are the basis of those phenomena so common that we prefer to see the good side of things, celebrate the victories and rationalize the failures,… In short, all those beliefs that make us be happy with ourselves in spite of the evidence pointing in the opposite direction.
Different authors have made valuable contributions on the study of a good number of those mechanisms are: rationalization, reduction of dissonance, reasoning, reasoned, self-deception, justifications,….
The main feature of the immune system psychological is that it works best when their operations are not subject to a critical examination conscious, so that when we streamline a fact we are not at all aware that what we are doing. This implies that people don’t tend to be aware of the influence that our immune system psychological have on our emotional well-being. And this trend can be the source of the bias duration.
The immune system psychological assumes that we possess, as it says Gilbert, “a hidden talent for happiness”. Or in other words: that we are more resistant to the phenomena of emotional extremes of what we believe. And it is for this reason that the phenomenon of immune neglect is especially perverse: to ignore our emotional resistance can have negative consequences for our happiness.
So, we may tend to avoid certain actions under the assumption that they may have some emotional consequences long-lasting, negative, when in fact it may be that their duration is more limited, paying a high price for it:
We may spend little time with our children and neglect our hobbies while putting in long hours at the office because we are convinced that keeping our current job will be better than being forced to find a new one.
We are not aware of that as something that we want to experience is in certain aspects better than something that we want to avoid actively, it may also be true that it is worse in other aspects. And if we fail when we try to get something that we want, our immune system psychological can help us quickly to identify the ways in which what we have is better than what we wanted.