Underestimating the Duration of Future Events: Memory Incorrectly Used or Memory Bias?

Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 131, No. 5, pp. 738-756, 2005

19 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2012

See all articles by Michael M. Roy

Michael M. Roy

Elizabethtown College - Department of Psychology

Nicholas Christenfeld

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Craig McKenzie

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Date Written: January 4, 2012

Abstract

People frequently underestimate how long it will take them to complete a task. The prevailing view is that during the prediction process, people incorrectly use their memories of how long similar tasks have taken in the past because they take an overly optimistic outlook. A variety of evidence is reviewed in this article that points to a different, although not mutually exclusive, explanation: People base predictions of future duration on their memories of how long past events have taken, but these memories are systematic underestimates of past duration. People appear to underestimate future event duration because they underestimate past event duration.

Keywords: planning fallacy, memory bias, prediction, underestimation, time

Suggested Citation

Roy, Michael M. and Christenfeld, Nicholas and McKenzie, Craig, Underestimating the Duration of Future Events: Memory Incorrectly Used or Memory Bias? (January 4, 2012). Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 131, No. 5, pp. 738-756, 2005, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1979451

Michael M. Roy (Contact Author)

Elizabethtown College - Department of Psychology ( email )

One Alpha Drive
Elizabethtown, PA 17022
United States

Nicholas Christenfeld

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0112
United States

Craig McKenzie

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0112
United States

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