Peak-End Theory: The Brain’s Highlight Reel

Peak-End Theory2

Another component of the Peak-End Theory is the two different selves we experience realtime through:

  • The Experiencing Self - the part of us that is experiencing things in the moment, is present, is focused on the here and now. This self is intuitive, takes action without too much thought.

  • The Narrating Self - the part of us that is cataloguing all of this information for later, categorizing, taking notes to create a story. This self is more creative; errors, edits, and misinterpretations occur in this self.

When we consider this phenomenon within the scope of alcohol use, it probably makes a lot of sense. We don’t remember much about the low-grade fun we had while drinking, but we sure as hell remember the time we fell out of a cab and puked in an alley midway through the night. We don’t remember how we felt when we started drinking, but we remember when the night ended with the whole bar singing “Don’t Stop Believing” in drunken unison. The peaks and the ends.

We also experience this phenomenon when we work to change our relationship with alcohol. If you’ve been alcohol-free for some time then you already know this: you remember the really, really hard days, and you remember when it started to feel more natural, but the rest is probably a little fuzzy.

What we take from this moving forward is two-fold:

  1. We understand that the way we feel now is impermanent, and it’s very possible that we recall this challenging time very differently in a year or five or twenty.

  2. We remember that our thoughts, including our memories, are an incomplete picture of reality. Our brain is doing its best to retain all of the information coming its way, but it’s an imperfect system.

Have you ever heard of the Peak-End Theory? Think about some of your strongest memories; can you see this theory at play in the way you recall them?

Doll, K. (2020, September 1). What is Peak-End Theory? A Psychologist Explains How Our Memory Fools Us.