How To Eat A Sandwich (The Daniel Kahneman Way)*

This is a post about how to get a better experience from your lunchtime sandwich.

Here is a sandwich. This particular sandwich is a chicken, bacon and avocado baguette, but don’t worry! This powerful psychological trick works with any kind of sandwich.

How would you eat this sandwich? You might start at one end and finish at the other. But then you are left with this as your final bite.

Not very exciting.

But why does that matter? It’s all to do with something Daniel Kahneman hypothesises in Thinking, Fast And Slow: the peak-end rule. This involves the gap between the experiencing self (how we feel when we’re actually doing something) and the remembering self (how we feel looking back on it or bringing the experience to mind again later). These two selves are quite different, and as Kahneman points out, the remembering self probably has more clout – memories are the part we keep of our experiences.

The peak-end rule is a rule of thumb which says that the average of the peak (the most intense part of an experience) and the end (the final part) is a good predictor of what the remembering self will take away from it. One example Kahneman uses are patients in – you might want to put the sandwich down at this point – colonoscopy examinations.

One patient had a colonoscopy which was short but intensely painful throughout. The other had one which was far longer, quite as painful at its peak and involving more pain in total, but where the pain dwindled away at the end. Which one remembered the experience as being worse? As the peak-end rule predicts, the second patient reported a better experience, even though he had experienced more pain overall. Because the pain dwindled at the end, the average intensity of peak and end was lower. And so the memory was less bad.

That’s enough about colonoscopies. Back to your delicious sandwich.

Instead of eating the sandwich from end to end, instead you might try this. Wait until you get to a particularly good bit.

Then after a tasty big bite, turn the sandwich around and eat it from the other end. What you’re left with as your final mouthful is the delicious middle bit, not the filling-free, crusty end.

What you’re doing is tricking your remembering self into recalling the sandwich as pleasantly as possible, by making sure both peak and end are high. This method has been extensively tested and it works!

Of course the peak-end rule has plenty of marketing implications too. We tend to think in terms of first impressions, but the rule suggests that LAST impressions are quite as important – so in a retailer, for instance, a long queue at the checkout, or a mistake in charging, can be even worse than you think. In the organisation, it suggests that a long meeting which ends decisively and inspiringly might be better than a short one which peters out. And in terms of blog posts – well, just scroll down….

One sandwich was harmed in the making of this post. Thanks to EAT for providing it.

*NB we have no actual data on how Daniel Kahneman eats his sandwiches.

The End.

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