Self-serving optimism in hedonic prediction

By Vilde Blomhoff Pedersen

25 June 2019 15:35

(updated: 25 June 2019 20:41)

Self-serving optimism in hedonic prediction

New working paper by Hallgeir Sjåstad (FAIR Insight Team), Siv Skard, Helge Thorbjørnsen and Elisabeth Norman, titled "Self-serving optimism in hedonic prediction: People predict a bright future for themselves and their friends, but not for their enemies".


According to longitudinal research, psychological well-being is remarkably stable over time. However, people may still believe that the future will deviate from the past. Across three experiments in Norway and USA (N=1,130; two pre-registered), participants were randomly assigned to report their well-being in the past or predict their future well-being. In line with a "bright-future hypothesis", people predicted higher levels of happiness and meaning in the future than their historical baseline from the past (Studies 1-3). Rather than being a cognitive illusion, the evidence favored a motivational explanation. The effect was found both in separate judgment and joint evaluation, meaning that participants did not correct their prediction even when the contrast with their own past became explicit (Study 2). The expectation of future improvement was successfully replicated for judgments of a friend, but not for an enemy (Study 3). People predict a bright future when they want to see one.

Read the full paper