Feeling the Future: The Emotional Oracle Effect

October 19, 2012

George Lucas inspired us to imagine controlling a magical force by trusting in our feelings. Presto! New research from Columbia indicates that this kind of trust actually does make us more accurate predictors of the future.

Profs. Michel Pham and Leonard Lee, along with Andrew Stephen (PhD ’11), conducted eight unique studies asking participants to make predictions in a wide range of areas, from political victors to box office hits to the weather.

The begin each study, the participants were either primed to trust their feelings, or they were ask to assess their own tendency to trust their feelings. The researchers then found that participants with higher trust levels were consistently and significantly more correct in predicting the outcomes of a variety of events, including the outcome of a presidential race, the success of various movies at the box office, or the eventual winner of American Idol.

To explain these findings the authors craft what they call the privileged window hypothesis. With all the information we encode constantly every day, both consciously and unconsciously, it is likely that we go through a tacit collection of the data that provides us a “privileged window” into future outcomes. Since feelings generally reflect an amalgam of experiences, “by encouraging a reliance on feelings, a higher trust in feelings may facilitate access to this privileged window, thereby enhancing prediction accuracy over the reliance on logical inputs.”

There are some limitations to the effect, of course. The increased accuracy only occurs if people have a reasonable and general level of knowledge about the domain in which they are making a prediction. In addition, the effect erodes when the phenomenon is inherently unpredictable. For example, increased accuracy occurred when predicting the weather two days in advance, but the effect disappeared for predictions two weeks in advance.

So, as you consider new markets, remember to trust your feelings when you make predictions about whether these markets would be a winning place to expand your brand.

To learn more about this phenomenon, read their paper “Feeling the Future: The Emotional Oracle Effect (.pdf).”


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