affective design

Exploring Emotional Design

Disappointment Beats Exceeding Expectations

Medical News Today has an article from the Journal of Consumer Research about how disappointment tends to have more impact on perceptions of a product or service than when our expectations have been exceeded…

Have you ever imagined that you would feel a particular way when you accomplished something, only to accomplish that thing and find the experience to be not quite what you expected? The difference between how you think you’ll feel and the way you actually do is called “affective misforecasting”. The research showed that when people felt better than they anticipated, it was taken for granted and did not influence product or service evaluations.

“However, when we feel worse than we thought we would, we sit up and pay attention.”

According to the researchers, we tend to pay more attention to disappointments than to the times when our experiences exceed our expectations. This may have something to do with the tendency to first avoid pain over approaching pleasure. One could argue that the two are not mutually exclusive, but it seems that short-term pain is often required for long-term gain.

Negative stimuli (in this case disappointment) elicit a stronger response and command more attention than positive stimuli. In evolutionary terms this would make sense, especially if the negative stimuli happens to be a predator that you should pay attention to and avoid.

In business terms, this tendency means that it makes sense to manage customer, client and employee expectations to avoid disappointment. Don’t create unreasonable expectations by promising the world … unless you can deliver it.

For more on pain, pleasure and expectations, see:

Expectations Determine Happiness
Pain, Pleasure and Purchase Decisions
2. The Influence of Emotional Affect

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