Correcting Memory Improves Accuracy of Predicted Task Duration

Michael M. Roy, Elizabethtown College
Scott T. Mitten, University of California, San Diego
Nicholas J.S. Christenfeld, University of California, San Diego


People are often inaccurate in predicting task duration. The memory bias explanation holds that this error is due to people having incorrect memories of how long previous tasks have taken, and these biased memories cause biased predictions. Therefore, the authors examined the effect on increasing predictive accuracy of correcting memory through supplying feedback for actual task duration. For Experiments 1 (paper-counting task) and 2 (essay-writing task), college students were supplied with duration information about their previous performance on a similar task before predicting task duration. For Experiment 3, participants were recruited at various locations, such as fast food restaurants and video arcades, and supplied with average task duration for others before predicting how long the task would take. In all 3 experiments, supplying feedback increased predictive accuracy. Overall, results indicate that, when predicting duration, people do well when they rely not on memory of past task duration but instead on measures of actual duration, whether their own or that of others. © 2008 American Psychological Association.