The peak-end effect
How would you judge an experience over time? Many people think that adding up all an event's negative and positive experiences and finding the mean is the answer to this question. For example, when judging your holiday experience when you have returned home, you could reflect on everything you have done.
Perhaps you had three awful meals, spent four days in the rain, and the roller coaster ride was so-so. But this was pleasantly offset by five great meals, ten days in blistering sun, and great windsurfing. So, on average, it was a good vacation. There were more pluses than there were minuses. Or, as economists would say, the utility of the event was positive.
Interestingly, this is not how we, as humans, judge events at all, and we often don’t realise how this works for our minds.
We tend to judge events with a phenomenon called the Peak-End Effect. This means that our mind only focuses on two aspects of the event that stand out: 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐡𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐩𝐞𝐚𝐤 𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐩𝐨𝐢𝐧𝐭. We compare those with each other, and that’s our overall feeling about the experience. This would look like the graph below.
As you can see, the mean between the green peak and end is higher than the mean between the red peak and end. It matters how high the highest peak and the peak at the end are. In holiday terms, the peak of the outstanding dinner that you had in a French Château in the middle of your vacation and the exceptional windsurfing in Biarritz on your last vacation day are the things your mind will use to judge your vacation. The red holiday had fewer negative experiences, but your mind will only consider it an “ok” vacation.
How can we use this effect to our benefit? Now that we know that the peak and the end of an experience are significant to our brains, we can use this to structure a narrative to be much more pleasant. This could be, for example, a customer’s journey, which is structured around the Peak-End Effect. A customer who engages with your website will stay longer on the website if there is a Peak-End effect incorporated. A side effect of the Peak-End effect is that people tend to lose track of time.
This effect can be used commercially and in our daily lives. Want more sales, attention, or just a great holiday experience? Create a high peak and end.
Want to know more about the Peak-End Effect? Get in touch with us.