Peak – end rule

When More Pain is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End” is an interesting 1993 study, providing groundbreaking evidence for the so-called peak-end rule. The research contained two different versions of one unpleasant experience:
1. Subjects submerge a hand in 14°C water for 30 seconds.
2. Subjects submerge their other hand again in 14°C water for 60 seconds, but then keep their hand inside the water for another 30 seconds in which the temperature is raised to 15°C.

In the end of the experiment, the subjects where asked which trail they wanted to repeat and surprisingly they where more willing to repeat trial number 2, the one with 30 seconds extra time inside the freezing water.

We remember the average

Why? The peak-end rule. We humans don’t take duration into account when we value an experience. We remember small parts, snapshots, that dominate the value of our experience. The snapshots we choose are often the average of the most intense moment and the feeling we experience in the end. We neglect duration.

In the cold water experiment, subject choose trial number two because of its end, the slightly warmer water gave them a more positive feeling about the experiment. The end of trial number 2 was slightly more pleasant compared to the overall intense cold of the experiment and this makes us prefer this one over the trial in which there is not any kind of positivity in the end.

Daily peak and end

I read about this experiment more than a year ago, but today it just popped up in my head when I was trying to figure out what is going on with me. The past few weeks, I experience how much it means to me to end end my days with my boyfriend next to me. I can spend my entire days crying and feeling miserable, getting lost in the chaos and darkness that have taken over my brain, but when I end my days with him around, I will remember the day as an ok one.

I notice how it doesn’t matter how much time I spend inside my boyfriends cloud of happiness. He can spend 48 hours inside my bubble but if after this I have to end my day alone, I will feel like shit, my day feels without any brightness. On the other hand, it also doesn’t matter how much time I will spend inside my darkness, if at the end of that day I experience just 10 minutes of joy, I will remember it as a bright day.

Peak-end and ADHD

I was very surprised when I couldn’t find anything about the peak-end rule and ADHD brains, not a single article or research combines the two. This surprises me because I believe ADHD brains are very sensitive for the end-experience in their everyday life. Our emotions are always a reaction to the end, and we are very good at forgetting everything that happened before this end. At least in my experience.

If I end my day at work with one little thing that’s not positive, my whole day will feel bad. On the other hand, when I have a bad day at work but I end with a boxing training in which I do really good, the whole day will feel good. This rule even applies on smaller things, on moments or tasks I do in a day. For example, when it takes me hours to fix my bike, hours of frustration, anger and beating myself up, I will forget everything once I finally succeed, in the end I will feel true joy about what I just did.

The end-rule?

My ADHD makes me unable to see time, to remember the before or the after. I just feel the exact moment and in the end of the day I value the experience of the day by how I feel at that exact time. Maybe this is why there is nothing to written about the peak-end rule and ADHD, because ADHD brains forget the peak, because we only value the feeling we have in the end.

At this moment, I’m trying really hard to figure out what I do with the experience of my peak moment, wondering if it does have an effect on my overall experience. To be honest, I’m not completely sure. I believe the peak does have matter, it does make my overall experience slightly better or worse, it does have a little effect on the average feeling at the end of a day or a task, but I think I have to admit that most of my experience is created by the feeling I have at the end. I am very curious how you experience this, what your thoughts are on how ADHD brains value an experience, if they include the peak, or just only take the end into account?


I would be very curious to see and experiment focussed on the peak-end rule and ADHD. Do ADHD brains value the end more? Are we able to go through much more intense peaks for a longer duration and still prefer this pain as long as the end experience is slightly better? Do we prefer to keep our hands inside the cold water for minutes when the last 30 seconds are a little warmer, instead of spending just one minute inside the water? To we tolerate more pain to be able to experience the same end experience?

I am very curious on how ADHD brain determine their experience. Not only in one experiment, but in life. I wonder if we take the feeling of the peak moment into account at all, and if we do, it is less valuable than it is for neurotypical brains? I really hope I will once find out about this, and I believe this would make my ADHD more understandable for myself, I would know better how to plan my days maybe. For now I have to do with my own idea about the peak-end rule and the difference:

Neurotypicalexperience = (peak + end) / 2
ADHDexperience = ((peak * 0.97) +(end * 0.03)) / 2

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