Your Brain Prefers Happy Endings
That's not always smart
Let's play a game. Imagine the pandemic is over and you take a vacation. You go somewhere warm with no plans other than to bask in the sun, swim in the ocean and have lots of drinks garnished with flowers, fruit ,and tiny umbrellas. When you arrive, the weather is excellent. The first few days are everything you wanted. But on the third day, there’s a sharp, strong breeze that makes it impossible to go swimming. On the last day, it rains, forcing you inside all day.
So, will you remember this as a good vacation? Probably not, say neuroscientists and behavioral economists. In fact, you will likely remember this experience more negatively than a vacation during which it rained most of the time and only cleared up on the last day. It doesn’t matter that you had more warm weather fun during the first vacation. “It turns out that people want happy endings,” said Martin Vestergaard, a cognitive and behavioral neuroscientist at Cambridge University.
In a study published Monday in The Journal of Neuroscience, Vestergaard and coauthor Wolfram Schultz show that participants prefer experiences with happy endings to experiences that became slightly less enjoyable towards the end. Thanks to their work with fMRI imaging, Vestergaard and Schultz are also able to suggest some of the mechanical underpinnings of this preference by showing that different parts of the brain preserve and process different pieces of information from the same experience.
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