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  • Neil Bage

Series 2, Episode 19: Peak-End Rule

Welcome back to the bitesize behaviour podcast and today we explore the Peak-End Rule, which sounds interesting in its own right, right?

The Peak-End Rule is all about our memories being created by the most intense moments of an experience and also the way that an experience ends. In other words, how we felt at the peak of the experience and/or how we felt at the end of the experience - hence the name Peak-End Rule.

Our recollection of events is really impacted by the way we interpret how events were experienced rather than the experience as a whole.

Let me give you an example to try and bring this to life.

Think back to the last holiday you had. What springs to mind? If it was a week long holiday, it’s unlikely that thinking about it brings back vivid memories from each and every day you were away. You could only do this day-by-day recollection if you created a unique and vivid memory each and every day. Otherwise, in deciding whether the holiday was great or not, only a handful of strong memories, vivid memories, are likely to feature in what you end up recalling.

This is because when we make memories, they consist of a series of highlights, snapshots, rather than a detailed record or a minute-by-minute account of the facts. So imagine that on one of the nights you were there you saw an amazing sunset, had a brilliant dinner, danced the night away. It was just the best night of the whole holiday.

This could be your peak. The highlight of the whole trip.

On the last day, you did something that you’ve always wanted to do - skydive for example - and ended the entire trip with another amazing evening chilling out under the stars. Your End.

A few weeks later, when a friend asks you how was your holiday, you’ll find it easier to recall the peak and the end, but a bit tougher recalling less detailed, less powerful memories.


The end of an experience is a really important part of the Peak-End Rule because, since it’s the last part of the experience, it can mean that positive endings can reduce the impact of an overall negative experience and, on the other hand, a negative ending can reduce the overall impression of a positive or pleasurable experience.

If we are to look for an example of a positive ending reducing the impact of an overall negative experience, we only need to look at child-birth. The positive memory formed by your own child being born can outweigh the memory of the pain endured during the process.

Or think of a sports team that has been playing poorly all season, but end by winning a prestigious trophy. This is what the fans will remember years down the line when recalling the season their team had.

And if we look for an example of a negative ending reducing the overall impression of a positive experience, we only need look at the holiday example from earlier. You’ve had an amazing week away, loved every minute of it, but the flight home was horrific. The worst turbulence you’ve ever experienced.

This can create a strong and negative memory associated with the holiday, therefore turning what was essentially a great experience into a not-so-great experience. The ending is so important and has a significant impact on how we remember things.


But what about the peak - can that be impacted, too? Of course it can.

Think about a long drive you’ve taken that ended with you getting to your destination safely and on time. But on route, another car nearly hit you, and you genuinely thought you were going to get into an accident. Whilst the end is positive - you reached your destination safely - the peak part of the experience was much less pleasurable, and can skew the way you remember the experience as a whole when you recall it in the future.

So what we should be aiming for, in order to ensure that we continue writing happy memories, is to try to end our experiences on a high note. Ending on a positive note will ensure that the memory you have is - clearly - a positive one.

I’ve read many reviews that suggests that the hit TV show Friends should have ended at series 8, which is the point most people suggest it was still seen as a brilliant show. It was at its peak. The last two series made fans see the entire series - all ten series - in a more negative light…using phrases like “Yeh, it was great but it went on too long.” Or “They should have quit whilst they were ahead”.

The secret of course, the hard part, is knowing and recognising when you are ahead, when you’ve reached a point that will ensure you leave on a high note and therefore the end of the experience is a positive one.

Another great tip for dealing with the peak-end rule, is to not sweat the little stuff.

Don’t let small, negative events cloud your views and memories of the larger more positive event. So don’t let the slightly cold, tasteless starter at a meal be too dominant when the evening as a whole, the food, the service, the company, was amazing.

The memories we recall, and the stories we tell ourselves have a big impact on the decisions we make and ultimately a significant impact on our overall wellbeing. Making as many positive memories as we can means that we can improve our happiness, our wellbeing and live a more fulfilled life.


That’s it for today. Now, given I’ve just talked about the Peak-End Rule, you’d think I’d have thought to end the series there - but no.

In the next episode of Bitesize Behaviours I’m going to look at what this all means for you - everything we’ve talked about over the last 19 episodes, and look at some practical tips and tricks that can help you make better decisions.

So - in the next episode I’m going to wrap up the entire series with an episode titled “So what”.

See you next time on bitesize behaviour.

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