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What Every Psychology Major Should Know About Affective Forecasting

Most of us aren’t able to accurately predict our future emotional state.

If I could just ________, I would be happy. That blank depends on the person, but most of us believe a specific, potential event could make us happier. It’s a psychological process called affective forecasting.

If you’re considering enrolling in a BS in Psychology degree program and entering a psychology-related field, you’ll no doubt encounter the concept of affective forecasting. Here are some of the basics you’ll need to know.


We’re Not Good at Affective Forecasting

Affective forecasting isn’t just about believing that something will make us happy; it’s about predicting any kind of emotional future. And we’re not good at it. Many psychologists use the term “miswanting” to refer to our inability to predict our future emotions. We struggle to comprehend what we will and won’t want in the future, which can lead us to make poor choices.

There Are Two Main Reasons We Miswant

In an article for the American Psychological Association, psychologist Brett Pelham describes the two main reasons we’re bad at predicting our future emotions.1 These reasons are:

Focalism: We tend to weight a single good or bad event too much, overestimating the effect it will have on our lives. We also tend to think our current state of mind will hold steady, when in actuality it’s likely to fluctuate.

Adaptation: We have what Pelham terms an emotional immune system. This system helps us recover from emotionally damaging events. Because of this, many of us recover from bad events much better than we might predict. However, there is a flip side to this system. The emotional effect of good events also wanes over time, resulting in less future happiness than we might expect.

Personality Can Play a Role in Predictive Forecasting

We’re not all equally as bad—or good—at emotional forecasting. A 2016 paper in the journal Cognition and Emotion found that our personalities can influence the accuracy of our affective forecasts.2 People who tend toward introversion and neuroticism are better at predicting future negative emotions, while people who tend toward extroversion and are less neurotic are better at predicting future positive emotions. The problem is, neither personality type can realistically predict both bad and good emotional states.

Affective Forecasting Has a Lot of Applications

While psychologists are still working to fully understand affective forecasting, the potential usefulness of this knowledge is already apparent. For example, knowing that affective forecasting and personality are linked can help psychologists develop treatments for those who struggle with negative emotions. But the potential applications aren’t confined to therapeutic uses.

Consider how a better understanding of affective forecasting can help marketers craft compelling campaigns. Or how an understanding of affective forecasting can lead to positive changes in the way we administer social programs. Or how high school and college guidance counselors can use an understanding of affective forecasting to help students better plan for their futures. And that’s just a few of the fields affective forecasting could affect.

How Can You Learn More?

If you’re interested in psychology, earning a bachelor’s in psychology could be a great next step. As a psychology major, you’ll study a wide variety of psychological concepts and gain the knowledge you’ll need to succeed in a career in psychology. And the many career paths available make getting a psychology degree one of the more useful bachelor’s degrees you can earn.

You might be wondering if you have time to earn a degree in psychology. Thanks to online learning, you likely do. In an online psychology degree program, you take classes over the internet, meaning you can complete coursework from home. Plus, online psychology courses don’t require you to adhere to a rigid schedule; instead, the online education format gives you the flexibility to attend class and complete your schoolwork at whatever time of day works best for you.

When you’re a psychology major in an online school of psychology, you can advance your understanding of human thought and emotion. It’s a great choice if you want to start pursuing the career of your dreams.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Psychology degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,