Maybe it wasn't that good...
November 28, 2006 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Say you just come out of the theater and someone asked you to rate the movie. You say 9/10. But if someone asked you how a movie was 2 months later, you may say 6/10. I'm told there is literature that supports this - people are initially more excited right after an experience than when they think back to it 3 weeks later. Is there a psychology term or articles on this?

I've searched for a while and had no luck. Am I using the right terms? I've searched for "initial excitement" effect and related keywords.
posted by lpctstr; to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Cognitive dissonance.
posted by bingo at 3:49 PM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

To clarify: that's the term used by marketers as well. When, for example, you receive a phone call a month after purchase to ask you how you're feeling about your new Lexus (this really happens), you're experiencing an attempt to counter any cognitive dissonance that you might be feeling.
posted by bingo at 3:51 PM on November 28, 2006

Response by poster: Cognitive dissonance seems to be a more general term for this behavior. I'm talking specifically about thinking highly of an experience right after experiencing it, and then not being as satisfied when compared in a new light some time later. I searched for publications on cognitive dissonance and could not find any articles talking specifically about this phenomenon.
posted by lpctstr; at 3:56 PM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: Check out the book Stumbling on Happiness that was published this year. It gives a good view of this and similar phenomena, written for a popular audience. I cannot remember what the author called this phenomenon, but I know it was discussed.
posted by matildaben at 3:58 PM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: I'm not sure there's a single term for this phenomenon; it seems to be a fairly predictable consequence of any number of cognitive biases. I don't think it has much to do with cognitive dissonance, though.

It's clearly a recency effect - disproportionately privileging recent events. This is a very general term and the phenomenon is ubiquitous in all kinds of psychological tasks.

It also seems a bit like an availability heuristic. A movie you've just seen is more emotionally salient to you, and that emotional impact causes you to rate it more highly than you would with a more distant perspective.

Basically, people are hardwired to over-represent current events in their models of the world. As time passes and you see more movies, it just becomes one data point out of thousands and so you are able to make a more accurate judgment.
posted by miagaille at 5:15 PM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't it is so much a recency effect (memory decays over time) as the fact that the experiencer has not had a chance to think about or mull over the experience.

E.g. "yeah that car chase seemed to be exciting at the time, considering that it was crafted to be exciting with the editing and music but when you look back at it - it was rather formulaic and pointless to the plot".
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:28 PM on November 28, 2006

Don't have a term, but Entertainment Weekly does this semi-regularly--the reviewers go back and look at a film they reviewed (maybe they do so when said film hits DVD?) and compare the rating they awarded it at time of release with how they feel about it now. Sometime it works the opposite way--they like the film more, given time to digest it.
posted by GaelFC at 5:32 PM on November 28, 2006

I second matildaben. That was the very first thing I thought of when I read this.
posted by Moral Animal at 5:37 PM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: miagaille's right: this is an issue of cognitive bias rather than cognitive dissonance. I can't seem to find a name for the specific phenomenon (it sure deserves one if it doesn't already have one), but it's really the direct opposite of the "rosy retrospection" effect -- where you develop a better opinion of an event later on than you had when it initially occurred.

This is also an awful lot like the "honeymoon effect" that describes the initial popular enthusiasm for, say, a new sports team in your city that fades over time, or for a new job, etc.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:59 PM on November 28, 2006

I'm talking specifically about thinking highly of an experience right after experiencing it, and then not being as satisfied when compared in a new light some time later.

In the marketing world, that is the definition of cognitive dissonance.

In any given situation that involves cognitive dissonance, there may be (and perhaps necessarily is) cognitive bias involved, but 'cognitive bias' does not in itself describe what you're talking about.
posted by bingo at 7:32 PM on November 28, 2006

Bingo: in psychology, cognitive dissonance is "tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time" (Wikipedia definition, but it works for me). Basically, the theory goes that people want to reduce this tension, so they find a way to modify their beliefs.

Cognitive dissonance could apply in this situation - for example, if the person's friends, or a critic who the person respected, hated the movie. The person would then be motivated to reduce the dissonance between "I liked that movie", "my friends hated that movie", and "I like my friends, and tend to agree with them". And the obvious way of reducing dissonance in this situation would be to decide that they didn't like the movie so much.

Been a few years since I studied psych, so I hope someone can correct me if I've got that wrong.

But the original question was broader than that, I think. (And sorry, I don't have the answer).
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:15 PM on November 28, 2006

The way I learned it (marketing context), the dissonance is between the consumer's feelings at time of purchase and the consumer's feelings at a later time.
posted by bingo at 8:35 PM on November 28, 2006

Response by poster: bingo: I think it's similar to cognitive dissonance, but it might not involve purchases. It's more like "Wow, I just saw this movie. It was the best movie ever." and then when you think about it several weeks later, you think "it was good, but about as good as some other movies I've seen".

matildaben: I looked at the online syllabus of the happiness book and saw some related things, but not exactly what I'm looking for. I placed a hold for it at the library and will check it out.

FelliniBlank: I think the "honeymoon effect" is pretty close and will look into it more.

Thanks for the responses so far and I'll keep checking this thread for different terms / articles if anyone finds any.
posted by lpctstr; at 8:42 PM on November 28, 2006

Response by poster: miagaille: I also like recency effect. Is there a more narrow term that is about positivity instead of saliance?

ie. More recent events are viewed more positively.
posted by lpctstr; at 9:24 PM on November 28, 2006

I don't know if there is a recognized "recency effect" or not, or whether it can be distinguished from forgetting. Anyway, while I initially thought that was a good explanation, I'm beginning to find it less and less convincing.

Anyway, I may be confused, but I think the "honeymoon effect" is different. There, the (contestable) premise is that the same experience/state of affairs provides diminishing returns when maintained or repeated -- sex is frequent but grows less so as the marriage progresses, a new job seems great but then grows less so, a new boss is terrific but then sucks.

Here it's not so much that the movie is viewed repeatedly but enjoyed less (though that would also be the case, it wouldn't be called a honeymoon effect, because it is so clearly a different commodity when re-viewed) or gets less enjoyable as you sit through it. Instead, it's that the singular experience loses its luster at a remove, perhaps because you forget its charms or perhaps because you put it into better context. Seeing a movie twice probably doesn't purport to test that, but instead checks to see whether it has legs.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:03 PM on November 28, 2006

near goggles?
posted by rob511 at 10:19 PM on November 28, 2006

BINGO: I just like to say BINGO even though I have no idea of what I am talking about.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:48 PM on November 28, 2006

bingo: I think it's similar to cognitive dissonance, but it might not involve purchases.

It's the same principle, whether it involves purchases or not. The issue is that you have different feelings about the quality of experience, product, whatever, when you first come into contact with it, verses after a certain amount of time has passed, the typical context being that you feel better about the thing at first, and then change your mind as you have time to process it and let the glam wear off. Bear in mind that your example about a movie definitely has to do with a purchase (of the ticket), even if that's not the part of the situation that matters to you.

But if you want to completely remove yourself from the marketing context, let's turn to the early days of Romantic poetry:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

- William Wordsworth
In this extremely famous passage, Wordsworth examines an idea important to his philosophy of art and life. As a boy, he experiences a rainbow one way; as a man, he experiences it another way. And yet, to him, this contrast is essential for appreciating the rainbow's beauty. In the process of thinking back on his childhood view of the same experience, and comparing that view to his current one, the poet is able to come to terms with exactly what it was about the experience that really mattered to him. Wordsworth called this "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquillity."

It may not seem to be exactly what you're talking about right now, in the heat of the moment. But give it some time, dwell on it a little, go for some walks in the countryside, and I'm confident that in time you'll come to see it my way.
posted by bingo at 1:58 AM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I still don't think it's quite right to frame this as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is very specifically about the psychological stress/insight/whatever that arises from holding differing opinions about something. This may describe the situation, but it does nothing to explain why we have these initial positive biases.

the typical context being that you feel better about the thing at first, and then change your mind as you have time to process it and let the glam wear off

The point is that this is merely the typical context; this isn't part of what cognitive dissonance means. (At least in psychology. Maybe marketing is more specific?) In any case, it doesn't help to explain why this phenomenon happens, it just describes it.
posted by miagaille at 5:24 AM on November 29, 2006

Well, in marketing anyway, it's understood that it happens because at the point of purchase (or intake, or use, or whatever), you're excited about the product (or experience, or whatever), and you're the most susceptible to all the hype associated with it. An enthusiastic salesman may charm you, or you may be hooked by a sentimental movie soundtrack and dazzled by special effects that push just the right buttons. In such moments, you often don't have the time or the inclination to think carefully and critically about what your'e experiencing. Only later, when the stakes are lower (after all, what's done is done), the excitement and charm wear off, and you start to engage your critical faculties. Without the dark room and the swelling music and comfy chair and the good-looking actor to distract you, you are now able to think about the story in isolation, and realize that it sucked.
posted by bingo at 7:23 AM on November 29, 2006


I applaud your persistence, but (a) it's simply not consistent with general usage; (b) the OP's focus doesn't appear to be on any discrepant usage in marketing; (c) I challenge that this is even the understanding of the term in marketing. See, for example, the definition by the American Marketing Association:

cognitive dissonance
- 1. (consumer behavior definition) A psychologically uncomfortable state produced by an inconsistency between beliefs and behaviors, producing a motivation to reduce the dissonance. 2. (consumer behavior definition) A term coined by Leon Festinger to describe the feeling of discomfort or imbalance that is presumed to be evident when various cognitions about a thing are not in agreement with each other. For example, knowledge that smoking leads to serious physical ailments is dissonant with the belief that smoking is pleasurable and the psychophysiological need to smoke. Cognitive dissonance is similar to Heider's work on Balance Theory and Osgood and Tannenbaum's Congruity Theory. Dissonance is presumed to be an uncomfortable state that the individual strives to reduce.
See also: buyer\'s remorse, consistency theory, post-purchase evaluation,

What you describe sounds like buyer's remorse.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:43 AM on November 29, 2006

(a) it's simply not consistent with general usage;

I obviously disagree.

(b) the OP's focus doesn't appear to be on any discrepant usage in marketing;

I think it's really obvious that this is not true, minus your use of the word 'discrepant,' which does not apply.

(c) I challenge that this is even the understanding of the term in marketing. See, for example, the definition by the American Marketing Association:

I think it's quite clear that the definition I've given and that definition are not mutually exclusive, nor are the definition you've given and the definition for buyer's remorse, which is why one points to the other.

However, anyone who hasn't heard me at this point isn't going to, so I might as well spend my energies in a more productive space.
posted by bingo at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2006

It just takes people a while to admit to themselves they just wasted 9 bucks on total crap.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:25 PM on November 29, 2006

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