How does a colonoscopy, Game of Thrones, and writing well fit together?
The Peak-End Effect
Daniel Kahneman (The 🐐) studied colonoscopy patients who were asked to rate the pain of the operation every 60 seconds. He found that people's memory of how painful the operation was, in fact, an average of two things:
The most painful moment (the peak)
The final moments (the end).
This comes down to 3 cognitive biases:
Representativeness heuristic – our brain creates snapshots and remembers those vs the whole thing
Recency bias – our brain remembers the most recent thing
Memory bias – emotionally intense events are more memorable
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is the best example. So many peaks. But, the ending SUCKED. Now, nobody even mentions GoT apart from lamenting the ending.
8 years of storytelling snuffed out.
Taking the learnings from Kahneman's study, we have to optimise our writing for the peak-end effect.
Make sure there's at least one emotional peak and a killer ending. If the ending sucks, nobody will remember it, let alone like it.
Here's a picture of a colonoscopy probe.