Although many celebrate the opportunity to participate in a truly fantastic or out of the ordinary event, new research suggests sharing the experience may be much less rewarding than what we had imagined.
“Extraordinary experiences are pleasurable in the moment but can leave us socially worse off in the long run,” said psychological scientist and study author Gus Cooney of Harvard University.
“The participants in our study mistakenly thought that having an extraordinary experience would make them the star of the conversation.
“But they were wrong, because to be extraordinary is to be different than other people, and social interaction is grounded in similarities.”
Cooney, co-authors Daniel T. Gilbert, Ph.D., of Harvard University and Timothy D. Wilson, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia, were interested in exploring the downstream consequences of extraordinary experiences.
“We all appreciate experiences that are fine and rare, and when we get what we want, we’re always eager to tell our friends.
But I’ve noticed that conversations always seem to thrive on more ordinary topics,” Cooney said.
“This made me wonder if there might be times when extraordinary experiences have more costs than benefits, and whether people know what those times are.”
This question was addressed in a study in which 68 participants were divided into groups of four.
In each group, one participant was assigned to watch a highly-rated “four star” video of a street magician performing for a crowd, while the other three participants were assigned to watch a lower-rated “two star” animated video.
All were all aware of each other’s video assignments.
After watching the videos, the participants sat around a table and had a five minute unstructured conversation.
The participants who watched the four star video, the “extraordinary experiencers,” reported they felt excluded during the discussions.
Overall they reported that they felt worse after the group discussion than did those who watched the two star video.
Additional information suggests that when an individual has an extraordinary experience, they may feel worse because they did not anticipate the social costs of having an experience — that is, being separated from the group.
Participants in two additional studies were asked to imagine how either they or another person would feel as an extraordinary experiencer taking part in the first study.
As expected, they mistakenly predicted that the person who had the extraordinary experience would feel better than the ordinary experiencers throughout the whole experiment.
Not only that, they predicted that they would talk more during the post-movie discussion, and would not feel excluded.
Researchers believe the findings suggest that we might want to be more judicious in determining how we share our experiences with others.
Furthermore, we might want to give more thought in choosing which experiences to partake in from the get-go.
“When choosing between experiences, don’t just think about how they will feel when they happen — think about how they will impact your social interactions,” said Cooney.
“If an experience turns you into someone who has nothing in common with others, then no matter how good it was, it won’t make you happy in the long run.”