(Medical Xpress) -- Like to save the best for last? Heres good news: If its the last, youll like it the best. That is the finding of a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Endings affect us in lots of ways, and one is this positivity effect, says University of Michigan psychologist Ed OBrien, who conducted the study with colleague Phoebe C. Ellsworth. Graduation from college, the last kiss before going off to war: we experience these lasts with deep pleasure and affectionin fact, more than we may have felt about those places or people the day before. Even long painful experiences that end pleasantly are rated more highly than short ones ending painfully.
But does the last-is-best bias obtain in everyday life, with insignificant events? It does, the study found. Moreover, says OBrien, it doesnt even have to be a real last one to be experienced as best. When you simply tell people something is the last, they may like that thing more.
The study involved 52 students, women and men, who were told they were participating in a taste test of Hersheys Kisses made with local ingredients. The experimenters drew five chocolatesmilk, dark, crème, caramel, and almondin random order from a hidden pocket inside a bag. The participants didnt know how many there would be. After tasting each, they rated how enjoyable it was from 0 to 10. Some participants were told each time: Here is the next one. The others got the same lead-in until the fifth chocolate, before which the experimenter said, This is the last one. After tasting all the chocolates, the participants indicated which they liked best and how enjoyable the tasting was overall. The results: The fifth chocolate was rated as more enjoyable when it was the last chocolate versus just another in the taste test. The designated last chocolate was also the favorite 64% of the time, no matter which flavor it was. Among those who ate only next chocolates, the last was chosen 22% of the timestatistically speaking, a chance occurrence. And the last group also rated the whole experience as more enjoyable than nexts did.
Why is this so? The authors have a few theories. Among these: Its something motivational, says OBrien. You think: I might as well reap the benefits of this experience even though its going to end, or I want to get something good out of this while I still can. Another, says OBrien: Many experiences have happy endings from the movies and shows we watch to dessert at the end of a meal and so people may have a general expectation that things end well, which could bleed over into these insignificant or unrelated judgments.
The findings of what OBrien humbly calls our little chocolate test could have serious implications. Professors marking the last exam may give it the best grade even if its not objectively better than the preceding ones. Employers may be inclined to hire the last-interviewed job applicant. Awareness of this bias could make such subjective judgments fairer.
Of course, endings dont bring up only positive emotions, OBrien notes. Often theres also sadness about lossthat bittersweet feeling. If its bittersweet chocolate and the last one you think youll eat, however, chances are the taste will be sweet.
More information: www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/journals/psychological_science