Here is an excerpt from an article describing an interview with Steven Pinker. Of note, is how Pinker paid attention to our deficits in affective forecasting (our ability to predict our future happiness) and forgot to pay attention to cognitive dissonance (how we tend to justify our actions).

Pinker cites the example of Dan Gilbert’s work on affective forecasting, which has shown just how poor we are at predicting what will make us happy, despite our great confidence in our ability to do just that.

About 13 minutes into the interview Pinker says he himself learned from Gilbert’s findings. Before Pinker made the decision to switch from MIT to Harvard, rather than imagining himself in his new job at Harvard, he asked colleagues he knew who’d made the same move, how they had found the experience.

This may sound shrewd but I couldn’t help thinking that Pinker forgot to factor in the power of cognitive dissonance. Because of the tendency we all have to justify our own actions, and to see ourselves as wise decision-makers, the colleagues who gave up their job at MIT and went to Harvard are perhaps the last people Pinker should have spoken to if he wanted an objective assessment. Subconsciously or otherwise, research on cognitive dissonance predicts these people will have been highly motivated to perceive their decision to have been a good one.