CONFIRMED: Craving is Better than Getting (?!)

Scientific American today is citing a new article, in which UCLA scientist Joshua Freedman claims to prove that a monkey feels maximal reward when he is actually getting a grape — but just before he eats it — rather than when he actually eats it.

And apparently there are other studies confirming what SciAm calls “this trend in brainpower” — that the mind controls how we anticipate the future, more than the reality itself.

(Okay, time for a plug here: read Stumbling On Happiness, if you haven’t already, for a pretty damned interesting look at how our imaginations and minds can limit happiness, and where we actually find it vs. where we think we will).

I can’t decide whether this should be news.

Hello, UCLA scientists, did you ever shop for a big “event,” like prom or a wedding?  Or wedding night, for that matter?  Wait, this is men I’m talking to here.  Not to stereotype, but there must be a comparison: have you ever anticipated great seats to a ballgame, or a date with someone incredibly special/hot/smart, etc?  There must be some kind of scientific algorithm for when the actual pleasure equals the anticipated pleasure.  Anticipation is at least half the fun:

Where x= anticipation, x>most of the times it never works out.

It’s all in the expectations.  In fact, I often have the best time when I have no expectations.  When I go see a movie I know nothing about.  Or find a restaurant that turns out to be great, but I didn’t expect it to be a Michelin 4-star.

When I first joined The Hoffman Agency, their excellent CFO, Leon Hunt, gave this great talk on expectation management and I’ve never forgotten it.  He just said very simply that everything we do hinges on the expectations we set.  That doesn’t mean we should go around lowering the bar, telling people — “hey, don’t expect too much ’cause I’ll disappoint ya.”

It probably does mean, don’t tell a tiny start-up with no customers in its first round of funding, that they’re going to get an above-the-fold story in the WSJ, or be featured right away in TechCrunch.

But mostly it means: be accurate, so that people know what reward to anticipate — they’re not anticipating a grape when all you have this time around is a raisin, know what I mean?


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