Living, and Thinking about It: Two Perspectives on Life
Cognition and Perception
Introduction It is a common assumption of everyday conversation that people can provide accurate answers to questions about their feelings, both past (e.g. 'How was your vacation?') and current (e.g. 'Does this hurt?'). Although the distinction is mostly ignored, the two kinds of questions are vastly different. Introspective evaluations of past episodes depend on two achievements that are not required for reports of immediate experience: accurate retrieval of feelings and reasonable integration of experiences that are spread over time. The starting point for this chapter is that the retrieval and the temporal integration of emotional experiences are both prone to error, and that retrospective evaluations are therefore less authoritative than reports of current feelings. We first consider the dichotomy between introspection and retrospection from several perspectives, before discussing its implications for a particular question: how would we determine who is happier, the French or the Americans?