Last week, I watched a fascinating TED video called ” The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory“. In it, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman revealed how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. The blurb describing the video content said:
This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness.
I think his ideas are important because of the insight they give us into the learning environments we create. This is especially true when we consider the recent focus on Kirkpatricks Evaluation Level 1.
The video is 15 mins long followed by a brief Q & A. I’ve given a short extract from the transcript below the video and added some personal thoughts on how it challenged me about the importance of ‘ending’ in my training design and delivery.
Daniel Kahneman puts his talk into context by sharing a story of a friends experience of a concert:
Now, I’d like to start with an example of somebody who had a question and answer session after one of my lectures reported a story. [unclear ...] He said he’d been listening to the symphony and it was absolutely glorious music and at the very end of the recording, there was a dreadful screeching sound. And then he added, really quite emotionally, it ruined the whole experience. But it hadn’t. What it had ruined were the memories of the experience. He had had the experience. He had had 20 minutes of glorious music. They counted for nothing because he was left with a memory; the memory was ruined, and the memory was all that he had gotten to keep.
Daniel Kahneman then explains:
- experiencing self: who live in the present and knows the present and although capable of re-living the past, is basically all in the present. Example – a doctor addresses this person when she asks “Does it hurt when I touch this?”
- remembering self: , who keeps score, and maintains the story of our life, and it’s the one that the doctor approaches in asking the question, “How have you been feeling lately?” or “How was your trip to Albania?”
The section that I found most interesting was the evidence of two patients undergoing a painful proceedure. If you watch the video, you’ll see the slide he refers to. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
This is an old study.
Those are actual patients undergoing a painful procedure.
I won’t go into detail. It’s no longer painful these days, but it was painful when this study was run in the 1990s. They were asked to report on their pain every 60 seconds.
And here are two patients. Those are their recordings.
And you are asked, “Who of them suffered more?” And it’s a very easy question.
Clearly, Patient B suffered more.
His colonoscopy was longer, and every minute of pain that Patient A had Patient B had and more.
But now there is another question: “How much did these patients think they suffered?”
And here is a surprise:
And the surprise is that Patient A had a much worse memory of the colonoscopy than Patient B.
The stories of the colonoscopies were different and because a very critical part of the story is how it ends — and neither of these stories is very inspiring or great — but one of them is this distinct … (Laughter) but one of them is distinctly worse than the other. And the one that is worse was the one where pain was at its peak at the very end.
It’s a bad story.
How do we know that? Because we asked these people after their colonoscopy, and much later, too, “How bad was the whole thing, in total?” and it was much worse for A than for B in memory.
Now this is a direct conflict between the experiencing self and the remembering self.
A little later in the video, he asks:
Why do we put so much weight on memory relative to the weight that we put on experiences?
This is a very significant point for us to consider. When we ask our learners about the programme they have just encountered how reliable is their response if:
- the ending was great but the workshop poor?
- the workshop was awesome but the ending was rushed and sudden?
- they’d had a poor experience in the past that had clouded their experience of the present?
As often happens, this TED talk causes me to ask more questions that it answers – and that is why I love them so much
reflection image by jef safi