Remembered utility of unpleasant and pleasant learning experiences: Is all well that ends well?
Retrospective evaluation of the pain or pleasure associated with past episodes (i.e. remembered utility) is mainly determined by how the episodes felt when they were at their peak, and when they ended (Kahneman, Fredrickson, Schreiber, & Redelmeier, 1993). Two experiments were conducted to investigate whether this memory bias known as the peak-end rule also affects the remembered utility of learning episodes and shapes study behaviour. Both the first experiment, which focused on unpleasant learning experiences imposing a very high cognitive load, and the second experiment, which focused on pleasant learning experiences imposing a low cognitive load, presented primary school children with a short study list and an extended study list with English-Dutch word pairs. Results showed that study experiences that ended on an experienced peak affect were evaluated as easier to learn and easier to cope with. These measures of remembered utility shaped children's immediate and delayed study behaviour. In addition, the pattern of affect induced by the word pairs that were added to the extended study list in both experiments suggests that the experience with new learning tasks is relative to the affect induced by the original learning task. The findings are congruent with the peak-end rule and support the position that the design of learning environments could be improved by taking remembered utility into account.