Focalism and the underestimation of future emotion: when it's worse than imagined. Academic Article uri icon


  • People typically exaggerate the emotional impact of future events. This occurs because of focalism, the tendency to focus on one event and neglect to consider how emotion will be mitigated by the surrounding context. Neglecting context, however, should lead people to underestimate future emotion when context focuses attention on the event. In Study 1, participants underestimated the intensity of their future negative emotions when they reported reactions to a romantic break-up on Valentine's Day versus 1 week before. This relationship was mediated by how frequently they thought about the break-up. In Study 2, participants underestimated the emotional impact of a lost prize when the experimental context forced them to focus on the prize versus when the prize was less evident. Thus, failing to account for the extent to which context would focus attention on the event, a form of focalism, led to underestimation of emotional reactions to a negative event.

published proceedings

  • Emotion

altmetric score

  • 1.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Lench, H. C., Safer, M. A., & Levine, L. J.

citation count

  • 26

complete list of authors

  • Lench, Heather C||Safer, Martin A||Levine, Linda J

publication date

  • April 2011