How Belief in a Happy Ending Makes Us Bad Decisions
How Belief in a Happy Ending Makes Us Bad Decisions

This is another trap in thinking, because of which the brain tells us not the best choice.

How Belief in a Happy Ending Makes Us Bad Decisions
How Belief in a Happy Ending Makes Us Bad Decisions

“All is well that ends well,” Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago. These words seem reasonable to us, but they hide the trap of thinking. A case with a happy ending is not necessarily entirely positive. And an event that didn't end as well as we would like is not necessarily completely bad.

For example, if you played poker and won two rounds out of five in the middle, you should be more happy than if you won only the last one. But this is often not the case at all, because our brain loves a happy ending very much.

The problem is that by dwelling on the happy ending, we value less the good things that happen in the process.

Let's say you had a long vacation, the weather was great most of the time, and only on the last day there was a downpour. In theory, the pleasure already received should not seem less because of the upsetting ending. But in practice, this last day can ruin the experience of the whole holiday. You might even think that it would be better if the vacation was shorter, but without any rains.

This is the trap we often fall into when we think about past events, that is, we attach too much importance to the final stage of some experience and make bad decisions because of this. After all, if, thanks to a happy ending, we evaluated the whole action as positive, then we will try to repeat it. Although in fact, in general, it may not be so positive.

To better understand this phenomenon, the researchers conducted a small experiment. Its participants watched on the screen two pots, where gold coins fell, and then chose one of them. All this took place in an MRI scanner so that brain activity could be monitored.

It turned out that the reason for the trap of a happy ending lies in the work of the brain.

We register the value of our experience with two different areas: the amygdala (usually associated with emotions) and the insular lobe (which, among other things, deals with the processing of unpleasant impressions). If the experience we are evaluating does not have a good ending, then the insular lobe inhibits the influence of the amygdala. When she is very active, the decisions are not the best. In the experiment, the right decision would be to choose the pot with the most money, no matter what denomination the last coin fell into it. However, not all participants succeeded in this.

Let's take a more real life example. You are going to dine in a restaurant and choose one of two - Greek or Italian. You’ve been to both of them before, so now you’re essentially asking your brain to figure out which is the best food. If all the dishes in Greek were "pretty good," then the whole dinner was "pretty good." But if in Italian the first course was “so-so”, the second was “okay,” and the dessert was “simply amazing,” you might get the wrong impression. Now you can count all the food there is better than it is and go there again.

A bad dinner is a pretty harmless trap of a happy ending, but the consequences can be more serious.

This feature of our brain can be used against us.

Ads, fake news, marketing gimmicks - anything that tries to influence our decisions can use our love for a happy ending to its own advantage. So don't forget to help your brain:

  • Remind yourself of this trap.
  • Before making an important decision, try to evaluate all the information, for example, make a list of pros and cons.
  • Check the data, and do not rely only on intuition or your imperfect memory.