Wait, wait—don't tell me the good news yet

July 28, 2014

Set goal, work to achieve goal, attain goal and react accordingly—that's the script we write when we set our sights on an achievement.

But what happens when the script isn't followed, and you learn too soon that you will accomplish what you set out to do? New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds that the positive reaction one would have when succeeding is lessened if it doesn't follow the expected course.

In "Feeling Good at the Right Time: Why People Value Predictability in Goal Attainment," Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of and marketing, and Nadav Klein, a doctoral student, found that when people learned, for example, that they would win a game, get a job offer or be accepted to college before their predetermined time, the experience was muted twice—when they learned early, and then when the goal was achieved.

"We basically show that people want to feel good at the right time—that is, when a goal is achieved and not before then," Fishbach says.

The researchers conducted four studies, and found that people made script-consistent errors in recalling an attained goal, that people were happier when good news followed the predetermined script, that people value goals less if they learn early that they will be achieving them, and that people had a mellowed reaction to achieving the goal if they were certain beforehand that the goal would be achieved.

"When people learn that a goal will be achieved before it actually is, they often try to suppress the positive emotion in order to feel it at the 'right time,'" Fishbach says. "The result is that people don't feel as happy when they get the news—because it's not the right time—as well as when the goal is officially achieved—because by then it's no longer 'news.'"

Fishbach and Klein speculate that, among other possible reasons, this muting may occur because of the fragility of positive emotion, noting that it is much easier for a good mood to sour than it is to overcome a bad mood.

"Once positive emotion is 'tampered with,' it appears to be difficult to reignite," they write. "It appears that positive emotion can be dampened relatively easily, but reawakening it appears to be more difficult."

Explore further: Trying to get kids to eat healthier? Don't tell them veggies are good for them

Related Stories

Trying to get kids to eat healthier? Don't tell them veggies are good for them

July 22, 2014
At some point, most kids will hear that drinking milk helps make their bones strong or that fish is food for the brain. But do these messages foster the idea that if something is good for us, it must surely taste bad? According ...

Study suggests having both extrinsic and intrinsic goal motivators can be detrimental to success

July 1, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with Yale's School of Management (and one member from Swarthmore College) has found evidence during a study that suggests that having both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations for setting ...

Can feeling too good be bad? Positive emotions in bipolar disorder

July 22, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Positive emotions like joy and compassion are good for your mental and physical health, and help foster creativity and friendship. But people with bipolar disorder seem to have too much of a good thing. ...

People with depression tend to pursue generalised goals

July 8, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from the University of Liverpool have found that people with depression have more generalised personal goals than non-depressed people.

Recommended for you

Depression changes structure of the brain, study suggests

July 21, 2017
Changes in the brain's structure that could be the result of depression have been identified in a major scanning study.

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.