Supplementing memory with experience sampling

post by jkaufman · 2013-10-28T11:52:13.319Z · score: 13 (16 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 9 comments

If you asked me how happy I've been, I'd think back over my recent life and synthesize my memories into a judgement. Since I'm the one experiencing my life you would think this would be accurate, but our memories aren't fair. For example, people who had their hand in 57° water for 60 seconds rated the experience as less pleasant than people who had their hand in the same 57° water for the same 60 seconds, followed by 30 seconds with the water slowly rising to 59°. (Kahneman 1993, pdf) This is the peak-end rule where when we look back at an experience we don't really consider the duration and instead evaluate it based on how it was at its peak and how it ended.

This disagreement between emotion as it is experienced and emotion as it is remembered is called the memory-experience gap, and the peak-end rule is only one of the causes. The problem is, generally we only have access to memories of our emotion, which means if you're given the ice-water choice you'll repeatedly choose the option with more suffering. How can we get around this?

When psychologists want to get at experiential emotion they give people little timers. Every time the timer goes off the person writes down how happy/sad they are at that moment. This is an external sampling method that lets us use any sort of aggregation we would like, and it's fair in a way our internal methods are not. When I first read about this I thought "neat" and moved on, but recently I realized I that with a computer in my pocket I could do this myself. After asking around I ended up with the TagTime Android app, which is the only way I've found to do this that (a) works without an internet connection and (b) has an equal probability of sampling at every moment.

The response screen looks like:

You tap tags to say which ones currently apply. I have them sorted by frequency. To add new tags you turn the phone sideways and type text:

That's a little annoying, but most of the time I'm not entering a new tag.

I have tags for happiness (numbers 0-9, added as I need them), for aspects of activities, and for people I'm with. Every so often I email the data to myself and add it to my full log which backs a graph:

Retrospective happiness still matters; you want to be happy with your life looking back. Because this is our memory, however, we're already aware of it and already optimize for it in our life. Adding sampled data should allow us to adjust that optimization to fix the things that are important but hidden by our biased memories.

9 comments

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comment by Metus · 2013-10-28T13:38:42.756Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

With what frequency do you sample? When I tried it I found it asked me annoyingly often.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-10-28T14:50:24.216Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The gap time is now a configuration option. I have mine at 45 minutes (on average) which is good. After I get more stable in my tagging system I'll probably bring it down to about 2hr.

comment by erratio · 2013-10-29T17:53:22.209Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Same experience here. I eventually switched to EmotionSense because TagTime felt like too much bookkeeping. (basically, I have long stretches during the day when I don't want to be distracted by my phone, which led to me having a bunch of tags to fill in at any given time since it was sampling every 45 minutes on average, and I'm really obsessive about not wanting to leave tags un-filled). EmotionSense bugs me a maximum of 5 times a day and IMO has a more intuitive interface for mood sampling.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-10-31T18:33:55.805Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant thought I had reading Kahneman that I'm not sure if I endorse:

Why should I care about my experiencing self? He is entirely fleeting, and my self identity is more strongly tied to my remembering self. If something is giving me good outcomes in my remembering self why should I care if it has a negative impact in the moment?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-10-31T20:32:06.767Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, one reason is if I want to accurately infer past events from present memories. E.g., if I want to know where my keys are, it is helpful to know how where my remembering self (hereafter RS) remembers putting my keys relates to where my past experiencing self (ES) actually put my keys.

Another reason might be if my "fleeting" ES's experiences actually have longer-term consequences outside of my RS's recollections. E.g., if I am experiencing anxiety in the presence of clowns as a consequence of some experiences my earlier ES's had which my current RS doesn't remember, I might still prefer to not experience that anxiety; similarly, if my current ES's experience may create anxiety in some future ES I might care about changing that experience for the sake of my future ES. (As well as, of course, for the sake all the future RS's who remember the anxiety uncomfortably, despite not remembering the event that causes it.)

But let's back this up a little. Never mind whether you should care for a moment... do you care about what you're experiencing right now? Or do you care more about what you will remember having experienced right now?

comment by Suryc11 · 2013-10-31T06:18:15.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is really, really cool.

Is there a similar iPhone app to TagTime? I can't seem to find one.

Or even some app that randomly notifies me to record my happiness level, etc.?

comment by Transfuturist · 2013-10-28T20:19:43.356Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was going to ask when you slept, but then I realized the graph was marked every four days. The pattern made it look like the period was daily.

Did something happen on Oct. 24th?

comment by jkaufman · 2013-10-28T21:43:12.810Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you asking about the only '4' in the data? I was sitting on the bus feeling atypically dead and listless. Nothing really bad, just moderately unpleasant.