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Cognitive Conundrums: memory versus experience

07 March 2011

I've just come from my monthly Fitted for Work Board meeting and, well you know what Board meetings are like - there's the minutes, the Financial and other Reports, the moving and seconding, etc. etc. We spent the last half hour brainstorming, throwing out ideas, freewheeling, and - hey - that was fun.

We'll remember this as a positive meeting, even if (and I assure you this wasn't the case) earlier in the meeting there'd been conflict, thorny issues and angst.

It turns out that this is how our weird human brains work.

The most telling examples of this phenomenon are to do with the measurement of pain during operations.

In one experiment patients reported on their pain every 60 seconds. Andy's procedure lasted 10 minutes and his pain level measured 6 out of a possible 10, going up to 7 for the last minute. Scott's lasted 25 minutes and was up around 8 but dropped to 6 for the last 2 minutes.

Clearly on any objective measurement Scott had a worse time - his procedure lasted much longer and his pain was higher for a greater period.

But when they reported on their experience Scott was much more positive about what he's gone through than Andy.

See what I mean about our crazy brains.

Our brain stores as memory what happens at the end of an event and overlays that on the whole experience.

So what can we learn from this?

I'm going to make sure that every talk I give from now on finishes on an upbeat note.

How could you use this research data in your work and life?


And for those of you who want to know more -