Sweet Endings

May 31st, 2012 by Rosa

Psychology Today has a great explanation of a recent Psychological Science paper about positivity bias – a paper on an elegant study that I wish I had done!

Psychologists have long known that first and last gets special attention. When we remember a list of things, the first and last item of the list is better remembered, known as the serial position effect.

Turns out that last also gets special attention when deciding how much we like things. Scientists gave participants 5 different flavors of Hershey Kisses to try one at a time (all those limited editions came in handy!). The Kisses were randomly pulled out of an opaque bag, so participants got them in random orders and didn’t know how many they would get.

Half of the participants were always told, “Here is your next chocolate” before getting to taste and rate the chocolate. The other half were told, “Here is your last chocolate” before the fifth chocolate.

When participants were told that the fifth chocolate was their last one, they rated that they liked it more than those participants that were told that it was their next one. That difference was significant, whereas the difference between the first four chocolates’ ratings was not significant between the two groups.

Figure 1 from O’Brien, E. & Ellsworth, P.C. “Saving the last for best: A positivity bias for end experiences.” Psychological Science, 23(2), 163-165.

Isn’t it cool how manipulatable we are by stupid little changes? I wonder what would have happened if participants knew that they’d get 5 Kisses but were still told “Here is your next chocolate” on the fifth one. Do we need to be explicitly reminded when things are “last” to enjoy them more?

Just to be safe, I’d recommend consciously thinking about your final bites – of food and whatever else you’re enjoying – if you want to savor it more.


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3 responses about “Sweet Endings”

  1. Margot C said:

    That’s weirdly fascinating; it’s like the final Oreo bit after you have twisted it apart, eaten the bare cookie side, nibbled the cookie edge away from the remaining side then nibbled around that a little and you have the LAST bite which is guaranteed to have the highest cookie to goop ratio that … ah (everyone does this right? it is normal, right?)

  2. Rodzilla said:

    Very cool, I didn’t look at the full study – but the histogram was impressive enough for me 😀

  3. J said:

    I’m catching up on my candy, but the bonus is your inclusion of serial position effect, et al. It sent me down a quite enjoyable rabbit hole. Great site. 🙂