End on a high note! Hit your last shot before leaving the basketball court. Make sure you say good-bye when you leave. And yes, all’s well that ends well.
In my continuing series for PeopleScience.com on cognitive biases, I recently took on the Peak-End rule. It’s a simple concept that can help you with everything from family relationships to sales pitches. Our brains are too busy to remember everything that happens, so certain things make a bigger impression that others. How you leave a situation always ranks near the top. But it’s not the only occasion that deserves extra emphasis. Below you can read a taste of my Peak-End Rule explanation, but read the entire story at PeopleScience.com. (I leave the colonoscopy example to PS.com editor Jeff Kreisler.
You visit the in-laws for a Sunday afternoon, and to your pleasant surprise, it’s going well. They don’t bring up anything awkward, like politics, or ask when you are finally buying a house or getting a new job. But right as you walk out the door, your father-in-law pulls you aside and demands to know who you voted for in the last presidential election. You deftly brush the question aside with a “no politics” joke, but then slink into the driver’s seat of the car, and heave a heavy sigh.
It was a lovely afternoon, but now there’s bad taste in your mouth. Later that night, as you replay the events of the day, you can’t quite shake that bad taste. The last sour exchange seems to trump every other memory you can conjure up of the day.
Your mind is simply obeying something called the “Peak-End Rule.” Endings stick in our heads, so a bad ending can really detract from your overall impression of an experience. Being served cold coffee at the end of a meal can make you forget how good your salmon was – and might mean you never dine at the restaurant again. A long checkout line at a store will make you think twice about going back. Send a golf ball sailing into the woods on the 18th hole, and you’ll be kicking yourself in the parking lot, even if you played a pretty good round otherwise.
This phenomenon works in reverse, too. A free after-dinner drink can rescue a restaurant that has screwed up a dinner order. A surprise ending can redeem an otherwise pedestrian movie. Score a birdie on the 18th, and you might even suggest your foursome return tomorrow for another round.
Many folks who explain Peak-End Rule rely on the famous Shakespeare line, “All’s well that ends well,” but that only tells half the story of this phenomenon. It was originally called the “Peak & End” rule. When Daniel Kahneman described it back in 1993, he was actually talking about the two most powerful moments in our memories of an experience – the ending, as we’ve discussed, and the most intense, or peak, moment.