Situation selection requires an understanding of likely features of remote situations, and of expectable emotional responses to these features. There is a growing appreciation of just how difficult it is to gain such an understanding. Looking backward in time, there is a profound gap between the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘remembering self’ (Kahneman, 2000). In particular, real-time ratings of emotion experience (e.g., how I’m feeling at each moment throughout an emotional film) diverge from retrospective summary reports (e.g., how I felt during the film) in that retrospective reports are predicted by peak and end feelings but are curiously insensitive to duration. Looking forward in time, people profoundly misestimate their emotional responses to future scenarios (Gilbert, Pinel, Wilsom, Blumberg, & Wheatley, 1998; Loewenstein, this volume). In particular, people overestimate how long their negative responses to various outcomes (e.g., being denied tenure and breaking up with a partner) will last. These backward- and forward-looking biases make it difficult to appropriately represent past or future situations for the purposes of situation selection.
James J. Gross & Ross A. Thompson, “Emotion Regulation: Conceptual Foundations,” in Handbook of Emotion Regulation
A few interesting things here:
1. I believe the second two of the three examples in the first paragraph are actually wrong, because those are things you would doaftera negative emotion has already happened (unless by the third, they mean making friends in general in the hopes that you’ll have someone available when you’re feeling down).
2. The tendency to overestimate how long negative emotions will last is very interesting in light of the fact that people generally have an optimism bias (for instance, underestimating how long a project will take to complete and overestimating how much money they’ll be making at their first job or whatever). Perhaps this is a situation in which being pessimistic is actually adaptive, because it helps you avoid potentially bad situations.
3. The fact that situation selection is so difficult is really important because it’s such a good emotion regulation strategy. Oh, well. No such thing as a free lunch.