In case you weren’t already aware, I am a behavioral economist. One of the seminal papers in this field describes a concept called prospect theory and argues that it’s a better model of how people make choices over risky outcomes and interpret pleasure and pain than the traditional models of risk aversion.
Prospect theory postulates that people code outcomes as either gains or losses compared to a neutral reference point (as opposed to considering only the final outcomes themselves). Furthermore, prospect theory suggests that people dislike losses more than they like equivalent gains. Specifically, people dislike losses about twice as much as they like gains. Put graphically, the value function of possible outcomes looks something like this:
While it isn’t necessarily the case that people acclimate to a new reference point after each gain or loss is realized, it’s most likely the case that, over time, the status quo becomes the neutral reference point.
This, in a nutshell, is why I hate Daylight Savings Time. Think about it- prospect theory, as well as my own experience, tells me that I hate springing forward more than I like falling back, if for no other reason than springing forward is coded as a loss of an hour and falling back is coded as the gain of an hour. Since these events are spaced months apart, my brain probably doesn’t bracket these changes in a way that makes them cancel out and instead acclimates to a new reference point before each subsequent change. It them follows that each fall back/spring forward pair (and not the other way around, since I was born in September) makes me progressively more and more unhappy.
Luckily for Daylight Savings Time, I will never be able to show this outcome empirically because there are too many confounding factors that also make me progressively more cranky over time. Maybe I’ll move to Hawaii- I hear it’s nice there. And time-consistent. 🙂