Contributor: Courtney Hummel – Senior Client Services Specialist, Emmi Solutions
In his TEDtalk, “The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory”, behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman tells a short story about a man listening to a symphony. The man experiences such joy throughout the entire performance , intensely feeling and relating to the music. As the recording meandered to its finale, the music suddenly stopped, replaced by a horrible screeching sound. This ruined the entire symphony, the man solemnly remembered. But, had it? He experienced 20 minutes of glorious music, jarred by a few seconds of madness. But those 20 minutes were now irrelevant; the experience was ruined, replaced with a marred memory.
One key takeaway from this scenario is the human memory is significantly and consistently biased. We must understand that a memory is merely the end result of an experience and the processing of that experience. It’s helpful to think of each person as two selves: an experiencing self (the one that is fully present in the moment and experiences every sight, sound, smell, taste, and feeling) and a remembering self (the one which sifts through the detritus of that entire experience, retains a few key nuggets, and forms a “memory” of it).
And these aren’t just random nuggets. We form memories based on very specific aspects of an experience: the most extreme aspect (the highest high or the lowest low) and the final moments. Shakespeare must have unknowingly donned his behavioral economist cap when he wrote “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
What does this mean for the patient experience? As healthcare systems constantly monitor patient satisfaction scores in both inpatient and outpatient settings, how do we account for what patients care about? What makes them form happy memories? Kahneman actually studied these phenomena, by comparing ‘experienced’ and ‘remembered’ pain levels during colonoscopy exams. Each patient participating was asked to rate his/her pain intensity every 60 seconds on a scale from 0 to 10, (0=no pain, 10=intolerable pain).* Let’s look specifically at two patients in his study:
One would assume by total shaded area that Patient B had more pain than Patient A. Poor guy. However, when the team compared patients’ overall ratings of their pain, they remarkably found the opposite to be true. Patient A and those like him described their experience, both immediately following the procedure and much later, as more painful. Herein lays the difference between the experiencing self and the remembering self. Continue Reading »