Individuals tend to think about impending events, regardless of whether it’s in their best interests to think about the future. This act of forecasting influences emotions and whether people are aware of it or not, causes their general affect to shift based on that forecast. In other words, when someone thinks that a very good thing will happen soon, like a job promotion or moving to a new home, they tend to overestimate the positive emotions they will experience at that time, and also tend to experience a higher level of positive affect in the present. In the same way, people are prone to overestimating the negative future affect they will have around negative events. This influences their current affect, causing them to experience negative emotions such as fear and worry in the present, about a potential future event.
How these affective forecasts shape current behavior was the basis of research by Brett Marroquin of the Department of Psychology at Yale University. Marroquin recently conducted two studies to determine how affective forecasting affected current desire to escape through daydreams. He also looked at how individuals with a history of suicide attempts were motivated to choose escape mechanisms based on affective forecasting. In the first study, Marroquin found that people with no history of suicide attempts chose escapist fantasies over regular fantasies when they forecasted increases in negative affect around negative future events and forecasted decreases in positive affect around positive events.
In the second study, Marroquin assessed participants with a history of suicide attempts and found that they were more likely to forecast less positive affect regarding future positive events and more negative affect related to future negative events. This finding remained constant even when Marroquin compared suicide attempters to nonattempters with depression. The results of this study show that affective forecasting can play a significant role in current behavior. People with a bias toward negative forecasting may be at risk for escapist strategies such as risky behavior, eating issues, self-harm, and even suicide. But, Marroquin also points out that overestimating positive affect in future events can improve current positive affect and provide motivation to engage in activities that will expedite the manifestation of the future event, regardless of its ultimate impact on affect. Marroquin added, “Interventions with individuals at risk for escape behavior, including suicide, may benefit from increased attention to affective forecasting processes, emotion cognition interactions, and their relationships with self-defeating behavior.”
Marroquín, Brett, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, and Regina Miranda. (2013). Escaping the future: Affective forecasting in escapist fantasy and attempted suicide. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.4 (2013): 446-63. ProQuest. Web.
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