Our Experiences and Memories shape us. And we, as human beings bank on them to carry out the majority of our days. But what if I tell you that our memories may not be a perfect storehouse of our experiences?

What if I tell you there might be a difference between what you are experiencing right now, versus what you will remember about them?

No. I have not lost my mind.

Let me ask you a question:

Suppose you have a cut on your arm and you have applied a band-aid, you have two options- Either to rip it off quickly, where the pain will be more but short-lived, or to go slowly- less pain but a prolonged period of time.

Which will you choose?

Intuition suggests the first one, right?

Well, a majority of a group of MIT students, when asked this question also thought the same thing.

Dan Ariely
   Pic: Dan Ariely 


But, in a research done by Duke University Professor Dan Ariely, some subjects were given the first treatment, and the rest were given the second.

When asked to rate their experiences, the group whose band aids were removed slowly rated the experience as much less painful than the other group?

Seems weird, right?

Let’s see what was going on

Our Experiences and Memories

Even though most of us have not given much thought to it, it is intuitively clear to us, that Experiences and Memories are two very different things, even though one stems from the other.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize Winning Psychologist and Economist in his revolutionary book Thinking Fast and Slow, takes this difference between experience and memory a notch further.

He professes that we humans have two different selves:

The Experiencing self, and the Remembering self.

As the name suggests, the Experiencing self is the one which experiences all the sensations happening with us at the present moment- Hotness, Coldness, Grief, Euphoria, you get my point

The remembering self, on the other hand acts as a memoir of our experiences. It is this system which answers whenever we try to remember how was our day, or chose a doctor based on our previous experiences with him/her.

Remembering Self over our Experiencing Self-

Daniel kahneman

The moment when we are actually conscious of an experience happening to us, or the “psychological presence” as it is widely called, lasts about 3 seconds.

After which, that experience becomes a part of our memory, meaning we spend most of our time during the day, not experiencing moments, but with their memories (No wonder “staying in the present” is so difficult, eh?)

Difference between Our Experiences and Our Memories

If there is one thing which all these decades of research on human psychology have made clear it would be, that our conscious and subconsciousness are two very different things. (or even “beings” as per some)

What flows from it is that our experience and our memories of those same experiences end up becoming very different from each other

Don’t Believe Me?

Read on.

The Peak-End Rule:

The Peak-End Rule or the Peak-End Theory is a major part of the literature on memory in Psychology.

It was also proposed by Nobel Laureate Dr. Daniel Kahneman,

“The peak-end rule is a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (or the most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.”

Remembering Self and Experiencing Self

Let’s take an example to understand this better:

Here’s (another) question:

What did you do at 2 pm last Wednesday?

Well, chances are you weren’t able to answer that pretty well. Have a go at another one:

How was your first day at School?

Now, for most of you I guess this was easier to say.

But, why?

After all, your first day at school, must be at least 10-12 years back. Why do most of us remember a moment from 10-12 years ago, but can’t remember something which was hardly a week ago?

We remember far better moments which are emotionally stimulating for us, and not so much those which happen to us on a more day to day basis.

Through the process of Evolution this was basically a way for us to remember the important things, and keep all those other things aside.

Peak-End Rule

This rule can work for all our experiences. Think about two things which happened to you- One which you loved; The other which you hated.

Answer this:

How did these two moments end? How many things stand out for you about those two memories?

I see you are finally getting a hold of this concept.

But if there’s still some doubt, here is a final experiment for you to try out at home:

Play your fav music, the one you love the most right now. Now at the end of it, play a loud screeching sound.

Lemme know how do you remember the same song afterwards.

What’s the Point?

The question that would be going on in everyone’s mind right now would be:

So what? What do I do with this information?

Remember the first question I asked? The one about the band-aid? Yes.

Knowing our own biases and heuristics help us to make meaningful choices which will affect our well-being, by making us more known to ourselves.

These have consequences in the business world as well. And those who understand it definitely have a better and more informed outlook toward human behaviour.

And that, is the point.