Looking forward, looking back: anticipation is more evocative than retrospection

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2007 May;136(2):289-300. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.136.2.289.


The results of 5 experiments indicate that people report more intense emotions during anticipation of, than during retrospection about, emotional events that were positive (Thanksgiving Day), negative (annoying noises, menstruation), routine (menstruation), and hypothetical (all-expenses-paid ski vacation). People's tendency to report more intense emotion during anticipation than during retrospection was associated with a slight, but only occasionally significant, tendency for people to expect future emotions to be more intense than they remembered past emotions having been. The greater evocativeness of anticipation than retrospection was also associated with and statistically mediated by participants' tendency to report mentally simulating future emotional events more extensively than they report mentally stimulating past emotional events. The conclusion that anticipation is more evocative than retrospection has implications for research methodology, clinical practice, decision making, and well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Attitude*
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Time Perception*