Greener grass or sour grapes? How people value future goals after initial failure
New published paper by Hallgeir Sjåstad (FAIR Insight Team), Roy Baumeister and Michael Ent in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, titled "Greener grass or sour grapes? How people value future goals after initial failure".
Across six experiments (N=1,304), people dealt with failure by dismissing the value of future goals. Participants were randomly assigned to receive good or poor feedback on a practice trial of a cognitive test (Studies 1-3, 5-6) or their academic performance (Study 4). Those who received poor (vs. good) feedback predicted that they would feel less happy about a future top performance. However, when all participants received a top score on the actual test they became equally happy, regardless of initial feedback. That is, initial failure made people underestimate how good it would feel to succeed in the future. Inspired by Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes, we term this phenomenon the “sour-grape effect”: A systematic tendency to downplay the value of unattainable goals and rewards. Mediation analyses suggest that the low happiness predictions were a self-protective maneuver, indicated by apparent denial of the personal and future relevance of their performance. Moderation analysis showed that people high in achievement motivation constituted the main exception, as they predicted (correctly) that a big improvement would bring them joy. In a final and high-powered experiment, the effect generalized from predicted happiness to predicted pride and gratitude. Crucially, the sour-grape effect was found repeatedly across two different countries (USA and Norway) and multiple settings (lab, field, online), including two pre-registered replications. In line with the principle of "adaptive preferences" from philosophy and cognitive dissonance theory from psychology, the results suggest that what people want is restricted by what they can get.