Personal relationships & the peak-end rule – a case study

The Peak-End rule:

… people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.

These are three relationships I have had all my life – U1, A1, and A2. They are all equally closely related. All of them did something terrible recently – together – that has ruined these relationships.

The three relationships - over time
The three relationships – over time

The question is, are the relationships equally spoiled? Or, despite their joint betrayal, I should treat them differently based on the ‘sum total’ of the past experiences?

The three relationships - frequency distribution
The three relationships – frequency distribution

Here is a plot of the frequency distribution of these relationships.

If I had no recency bias1 – this graph would accurately reflect how I felt:

  1. U1: Never great. The relationship spent most of its period in the middle or left half. This is also the relationship where I have had the fewest interactions.
  2. A1: Extremes. We had our good moments, but also our bad moments. They are quite temperamental, as have I been in the past. This is reflected in the chart.
  3. A2: Mostly good. We had quite a few good times, a few neutral periods, and some bad periods. But mostly its been a good, happy relationship.

I don’t care about U1. That was never a positive relationship, and the recent action may have buried it for good. No loss.

I would have liked to continue the A1 relationship, despite the frequent peaks and troughs. But their recent actions have left a strong damaging mark.

It’s the A2 relationship that I am torn about. I am struggling to reconcile my angst over the recent (and peak) bad actions on their part, with the otherwise happy relations we have had all our life.

First, just looking at the A2 relationship by itself:

My brain is telling me to accept the averages – keep the relationship, if downgraded a bit based on recent actions. My heart is fighting it – it wants nothing to because of the recent & high pain from their recent actions.

Second, comparing the three relationships:

The brain says that the three relationships should suffer equally because of their combined terrible action (i.e. change state by similar amount).
The heart wants to drop all the three relationships to a similar low-level because of their combined terrible action (i.e. change state to similar amount).

I have to make a call today or tomorrow. I may know who won – brain or heart – by the end of the call, or if I don’t make the call.

  1. Recency bias: When asked to recall a list of items in any order, people tend to begin recall with the end of the list, recalling those items best. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.