You Won't Do What You Think You'll Do

Using a simple fruit versus ice cream example, we uncover how a projection about a future decision can alter as time goes on.

The Scenario

On her way home from work, Jessica is planning what she will have for dinner. She has a bit of a sweet tooth and likes to have something sweet after dinner, so her New Year’s resolution is to have fruit for dessert instead. However, after she gets home and enjoys her dinner, she reaches for the ice cream in her freezer.

The Reason

Given the choice between fruit and ice cream, it’s highly likely that we think we will choose fruit when planning for a future meal. This is because we are overly optimistic about our behaviors and believe we will choose the healthier option because we like to make good decisions that line up with our health goals. However, when the time comes to eat dessert, many of us will actually end up choosing the ice cream. There are a few important reasons for this, and one of them is the hot-cold empathy gap.

Hot-Cold Empathy Gap

The hot-cold empathy gap is a cognitive bias based on physiological drives. These are biological influences which include hunger, thirst, cravings or strong emotions. They have a deep impact on our behaviors and decision-making.

People cannot always estimate the impact of physiological need states on decision making, and therefore behave in ways that may not seem entirely in line with initial planning. We are unable to accurately assess how we will feel under the influence of these biological drivers.

While experiencing the hot-cold empathy gap, we tend to ignore the more logical or practical solution and act impulsively. It’s one of the main reasons we shouldn’t go to the grocery store when we are hungry!

In the case of the fruit versus ice cream example, the ice cream is probably more delicious, may be easier to access, easier to prepare, or linked to a better memory, and therefore becomes the chosen dessert after dinner.

In the next installment, we dive further into the factors that affect our behavior. Part 2 covers how our memories are skewed.

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