Kevin Jenne, Director of Agent & Consumer Research at Safeco and I had a chance to talk before the Seth Godin keynote about Kevin’s presentation “Experiencing versus Remembering” at last week’s TMRE. Topics like this one delving into the psychology of behavior are intriguing to me, based on my background in psychology. Our conversation brought to mind experiences in employee training programs where trainees have adopted the methods and stories of successful ‘rewarded’ practitioners, in some cases morphing into them until the trainee becomes part of the success story in the retelling.

Kevin presented alongside Shellie Yule, Vice President at Socratic Technologies. Shellie started us off with a joke about a guy looking for his lost car keys under a streetlight. When people try to help him, he explains that he actually lost his keys in the park, yet since there is not streetlight there, he’s looking “where it’s easiest.” That lighter moment set the stage for thinking about the memory and experience divide. Will people look back, in memory, on events and shape them to be easier, more comfortable and more closely aligned with the consumer’s self-perception?

Shellie also invoked noted authors Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, expanding on the idea that our intuitive, immediate reaction in an event experience will differ from our reasoned, hindsight event memory. She defined the terms as “in the moment” for experience and “contemporaneous” for memory.

Using a case study on patients with Crohn’s disease, Shellie spoke about the “peak end” rule as a factor in memory. The peak end rule is a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. [See also this post: Memories of Customer Experiences Trump the Actual Experiences.]

Noting these differences, researchers need to develop and conduct studies to quantify them.

Kevin talked the audience through the research that they conducted with decision makers planning on shopping for auto insurance in the next month. The process included a screener, check-ins, and a daily recap over 2 to 3 weeks, and then a 30-day follow-up to assess in-the-moment versus contemporaneous perceptions.

The study goal was to assess reasons for shopping, as well as the relative importance of each of those factors. After detailing several specific, individual cases, Kevin indicated the key metrics in the findings:

  • 54% of respondents left out a factor (contemporaneous) that they’d rated as important (in the moment
  • 50% of respondents added a new factor when remembering that hadn’t been part of their in the moment decision making
  • 45% of respondents changed a decision factor by more than 20 points between in the moment and contemporaneous assessments

The presenters suggest that more work should be done to further validate this approach, specifically referencing the potential bias from the Hawthorne Effect (respondent knowledge that they’re being observed).


In their summary, they suggested that we ask the following questions when considering contemporaneous research:


  • Tense: Is the research asking past, present or future?
  • Specificity: How detailed are the questions that need to be asked?
  • If contemporaneous, does the benefit justify the cost?

This was a presentation that I will long remember. Well, at least I’ll remember its peak and its finale!

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

Gravatar Image
Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.