The Role of Affective Forecasting in Task Behavior: How – And For Whom – Do Inaccurate Emotional Predictions Impact Task Performance?




Winslow, Carolyn Jeanine

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Given the amount of time humans spend thinking about potential, future hedonic outcomes, there is a considerable amount of research evaluating the accuracy of such anticipated emotional reactions, also known as affective forecasts. To-date, much research on the topic suggests that people do not accurately predict how they will feel in response to future events; however, existing approaches are limited to identifying the nature of affect discrepancies/errors and/or focus on hedonic expectations surrounding relatively intense, infrequent events. This study examined how affective forecasting accuracy influences routine task performance and, secondarily, for whom, and through which mechanisms such may occur. Participants were asked to identify the date of an upcoming college exam. Later, they were asked to report their emotional experiences while studying for the exam and to complete measures of attentional focus and coping behaviors. Following the exam, grades were collected from students in order to determine how task-related behavior influences subsequent task performance. Results suggest that people made relatively accurate predictions with respect to general affect and were equally inaccurate when predicting positive versus negative affect. In addition, approximately the same proportion of respondents over- vs. underpredicted general affect. Compared to general affect, many more people made accurate predictions about discrete emotions. Hypotheses were made about general positive and negative affect but significant findings were mostly yielded through exploratory analyses of discrete emotions. Specifically, the relationship between conscientiousness and attentional focus depended on affective forecasting inaccuracy: less conscientious individuals indicated lower levels of attentional focus when overpredicting – versus underpredicting - general PA. In contrast, highly conscientious individuals exhibit the same levels of attentional focus irrespective of whether they had over- versus underpredicted positive affect. The effect observed for positive affect seems to have been driven by three specific positive emotions: active, alert, and attentive. Several potential influences on affective forecasting in this context are discussed: the amount of temporal distance between the time the forecast is made and affect experienced, the relevance of certain emotions, the type of routine task or work event, and whether the affect referent is broad versus specific.



Psychology, Affective forecasting, Anticipated affect, Emotions, Task performance