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Why do we remember experiences as we do?


When it comes to designing experiences be it in the Macro, Micro or Nano explained here we should really talk about why we remember the experiences we do. The structure of what makes experiences memorable vs the ones we forget is something Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls Peak-End theory.

What is the Peak-End Theory?

Daniel Kahneman did a study on the procedure of a colonoscopy, but more importantly what score the patients recalled their pain at, he looked at two data sets:

  • Set 1 - measurement of pain while the patient was having the procedure.

  • Set 2 - measurement of the pain the patients remembered once they had recovered from the procedure.

Daniel then compared both data sets and noticed something peculiar.

He noticed that our beautiful, complex brains didn't remember every part of an experience on reflection, and actually what they seemed to remember is two key points, yep you guessed it, the peak of the experience and the end of the experience, hence the name.

Daniel has described two versions of our self: the “Experiencing self” and the “Remembering self” in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow which can be found here.

Getting to the point, the remembering self basically ties an experience together ready to be recalled based on the peak and end of an experience. We see this a lot when telling our own stories or, when listening to another's story.

Specific details of the story get lost or are unclear and hard to recall - the complete opposite to the peaks and ending of the experience. It’s also a personal interest when listening to the story the choice of words used when describing that experience, they tend to be ones of feeling a lot of the time!




We can see this in all walks of life - theme parks, movies, restaurants, shopping, etc. A very simple example of every day is ordering your Starbucks for pick up via the app.

Example of Peak-End

Maybe you will remember the moment as you walk past the folks queueing for the coffee (Peak) along with emotions and feelings as you walk out, coffee in hand, knowing you saved on stress and time. (The end...unless your coffee was bad).

Our experiences have a very emotional and visceral impact, which, if designed and shaped right, can have some pretty positive results. However if done wrong, you guessed it, can have some real negative results… think about the last time you had food poisoning or the above bad coffee!

Our beautiful, complex brains didn't remember every part of an experience on reflection, and actually what they seemed to remember is two key points.

What does this mean to us...well you?

Well, customer experience, employee experience or creating experiences to allow for learning are no different. So all we have to do is design a mediocre experience, add in a peak and a great ending and we are done... hmm not so fast.

Whilst a fix like this might seem like the way forward, it's important to remember the plasters we use to patch up today, becomes the problems of tomorrow, especially if the root cause is never addressed.

What I would suggest doing is reimagine the stages of the Macro, Micro and Nano experience as a whole, adding many more peaks in the Macro, Micro and Nano experience.

When it comes to the customer, employee or any other Macro experience just one peak won't cut it. We want to be wowed, surprised and delighted more than just once. I should also highlight not everything can be a peak, in fact the average and low moments are just as important as the peaks.

Listen to any music used in a horror movie and you will hear how it moves from a low point to a climatic peak...experiences are no different.

The plasters we use to patch up today, becomes the problems of tomorrow

If the pressure if piled on from the top down as we all know it sometimes is, it would pay to turn the moments in the business to drill in to really high peaks, that will then be remembered much better than any 100 page slide deck.

In summary:

  • Peaks cant exist without neutral and low points.

  • Peaks can be created out of the experiences already in place.

  • It may prove to be of value to look over the whole macro experience and reimagine it.

  • Always design the experience via the actor's eyes, not the organisations.

  • Always apply the many layers of design (think onion image on last post) to the peaks and endings.


This was originally Published on July 1, 2019 on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-do-we-remember-experiences-danny-seals/

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