A 1993 research conducted by Daniel Kahneman and Barbara Frederickson found that the human memory is rarely a perfectly accurate record of events.
Study participants were instructed to hold their hands in cold water for an uncomfortable but not dangerous experimental condition.
A series of short trials were conducted; the starting condition and hand submerged alternated between trials. The experiment consisted of three rounds:
- Round 1: 60 seconds at 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Round 2: 60 seconds at 14 degrees Celsius followed by 30 seconds at 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Round 3: Option to choose between repeating Round 1 or Round 2
At 15 degrees Celsius, water is still unpleasantly cold, so it would be rational to choose 60 seconds of discomfort instead of 90 seconds. It turns out, the slightly less uncomfortable final 30 seconds of the experiment changed how people perceived the entirety of Round 2.
80% of the study participants preferred Round 2 and chose to repeat that condition in the final trial.
Kahneman and Redelmeier did another study on colonoscopy patients where—for one group, after the colonoscopy was done, where the scope was left in for an additional 3 minutes but not moved, causing discomfort, but not causing pain for the patients, and the other group was treated in the typical procedure.
Patients who underwent prolonged colonoscopies rated their experience as less painful than those who underwent the typical colonoscopy procedure. The gradual release from discomfort was remembered and felt less painful for the first group.
This shows that a small improvement near the end of an experience radically shifted people’s perception of that event.
In the realm of positive experiences, Diener, Wirtz, and Oishi conducted studies in which participants rated a wonderful life that ended suddenly as better than one with the addition of mildly pleasant years.
They termed this the James Dean effect.
Another study showed how television commercials that induce positive feelings are rated more highly by consumers if the commercials have high peaks of intensity and strong positive endings regardless of their duration.
This is what is called the Peak-End Rule which states how an individual remembers an event by simplifying the memory and emphasizing its peak and endings.
Since we can’t remember every little detail of our experiences, we remember the most intense moments and the ending of them.
TAKEAWAY: Always provide positive experiences throughout the duration of the user experience with your product. In the end, leave them on a high note.
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