Only peak and end matter

Imagine you arrived at the airport on time, cruised through security, got the seat you wanted, your flight left on time and was smooth, yet when you landed, the plane sat on the runway for 30 minutes or your luggage was lost – how would you rate the overall experience? If you are like most people, you will not be happy about your flight despite the fact many things at the beginning of this trip went well.

You aren’t happy because you are wired to remember two parts of your overall experience: the peak and the ending. In psychology this is called peak-end rule. According to the peak-end rule, our memory of past experience (pleasant or unpleasant) does not correspond to an average level of positive or negative feelings but to the most extreme point and the end of the episode (Kahneman, 2000b).

Chip and Dan Heath also explore this concept in their book ‘The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.

They suggest that a peak moment requires at least one of the four elements below, with the best having all four:

  • Elevation: these are moments of happiness that transcend the normal course of events through sensory pleasures and surprise
  • Pride: these are moments that capture us at our best; whether it be moments of achievement or moments of courage
  • Insight: these are our eureka moments; they change our understanding of ourselves of the world and give us a moment of sobering clarity
  • Connection: these are moments which are social in nature; think weddings.

Evolution has built us humans to maximize our brainpower and conserve cognitive energy, by helping us avoid spending brain capacity on memories that are irrelevant and not intense. Findings supporting peak-end theory suggest that a small improvement near the end of an experience can radically shift one’s perception of the event.

If you are a business, think how can you improve last impressions about your product/service delivery or engagement. If you are about to go into a negotiation, think what the last 5-10min of your discussion should look like. If you are an event organizer, think what the last part of your event should look like.  

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