Your friends don’t want to hear about your excellent adventures. While you may have gotten pleasure from an epic event — sipping a rare wine in Burgundy, watching a Himalayan sunrise — that pleasure is all your own.
A recent study in Psychological Science says that despite the thrills people receive from an extraordinary experience, few anticipate its potential social cost: exclusion by friends who would really rather not hear about it.
Harvard researchers found that when people socialise, those who had the same experience, no matter how mundane, enjoyed chatting about it together. Those same people might well exclude the person who thought others couldn’t wait to hear all about his or her most unusual one.
“It’s a timely question, given how much people are sharing and bragging about their experiences through social media,” said Cassie Mogilner, an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, who looks at the happiness that people derive from ordinary and extraordinary events. “This suggests that people may be rolling their eyes at all those posts about amazing vacations.”
Before beginning the study, the researchers asked 76 participants to rate the quality of short movies. From that data, the researchers picked a high-rated film — one that left viewers feeling great — to serve as the proxy for an extraordinary experience. They picked a low-rated film, one that left viewers feeling “not very good,” as an ordinary experience.
To measure the social consequence of an extraordinary experience, the researchers then asked 68 new subjects to watch one of the movies. The researchers held 17 sessions, with four participants each. One person was shown the superior, four-star video, the “extraordinary” experience.
The other three, each watching alone, saw the lackluster, two-star video, an “ordinary” experience. The group convened afterward to chat.
As it turned out, the people who had seen the best film didn’t enjoy the postfilm socializing. “Our subjects thought they would be the star of the interaction, and they were surprised they were left out of it,” said a co-author, Daniel T Gilbert, a Harvard social psychologist who writes about happiness.
“They didn’t understand why everyone else wanted to commiserate” about the bad movie “rather than hear about their great one.”
In questionnaires filled out later, the participants who had watched the superior video felt considerably worse than those who had seen the ordinary one. In follow-up studies, people incorrectly predicted that seeing the better video would improve their social interactions, not make them worse.
– Jan Hoffman