How the Peak–End Rule Shapes Experience

Your brain using the peak-end rule when it comes to memory

The peak–end rule is one of the most interesting habits of memory. It simplifies our memories by highlighting an experience’s emotional peak and ending. This article explores the rule and its powerful role in our lives.

What Is the Peak–End Rule?

The peak–end rule causes us to filter out less exciting or unimportant aspects of an experience, leaving us with a simplified version of it. While this might seem like a helpful way to free up space in our memory banks, it often causes us to remember events selectively, creating overly positive or negative memories.

For example, most parents have very positive memories of childbirth. They think back fondly to the joy of holding their child for the first time, even though the birthing process is extremely painful and often stressful for the mother and father. The peak–end rule suppresses those negative aspects in favor of the positive.

The peak–end rule doesn’t apply to just positive memories. It can also cause us to focus on an experience’s negative aspects more than the positive, making the memory worse than the actual experience.

Divorces often generate negative memories since most end unfavorably. Although the couple may have shared many positive experiences in the past, divorcees typically focus more on the bad times than the good.

Peak–End Rule’s Systemic Effects

Many companies take advantage of the peak–end rule when developing their products and services. Skilled marketing strategists and tech developers can manipulate a consumers’ peak moments and endings to influence positive memories of their experiences.

One of the simplest yet most effective ways companies use the peak–end rule is by providing a surprise discount or gift at checkout, leaving customers with a favorable last impression they are sure to look back on positively. As a result, customers will be more inclined to continue shopping at the establishment.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic is a fancy term for a mental shortcut people use to make swift decisions and estimate probabilities. It causes us to remember specific aspects of an experience, giving us a brief yet thorough memory of an event or product.

The peak–end rule stems from the representativeness heuristic, triggering an emotional reaction that reminds us of an event. It causes us to remember an event’s emotional peak and conclusion while suppressing less important factors so that we come away with only a positive or negative impression. 

The peak–end rule works with the representativeness heuristic to develop memories we keep throughout our lives.

Why We Remember the Emotional Peak

People typically remember events and products better when they experience intense emotion. Events that trigger strong responses stick with us longer. If something triggers happiness or anger during a specific event, the individual is likelier to remember the incident than less eventful situations.

However, people don’t always remember the emotional response as much as the event itself. Although the reaction typically determines a positive or negative experience, a person might not remember what triggered the emotion.

Primacy and Recency Bias

A memory’s beginning and end are often the most vivid due to serial position effects like recency bias and primacy bias. Recency bias causes us to remember recent events more clearly than previous ones, making conclusions about such events stick in the brain. Recency biases influence the peak–end rule and leave a positive or negative impression.

How To Use the Peak–End Rule to Your Advantage

Understanding cognitive bias and the peak–end rule can help you shape your recollections and avoid unfavorable memories. Below are a few tips to help you use the peak–end rule to your benefit.

Create a Favorable Ending

Man having a favorable memory

It’s best to end experiences favorably when possible. Although not every experience can end on a high note, you can sometimes improve the situation by taking additional steps.

For example, if you go out to eat and receive subpar service, you can improve the situation by grabbing dessert at your favorite ice cream parlor afterward. The joy you experience after eating ice cream will likely outweigh your disappointing dinner, giving you a more favorable memory to recall from that time.

Gradual Relief

Most people seek immediate relief after a painful or unpleasant experience. Although swift relief might provide short-term comfort, it won’t help you in the long run. Studies show that gradual relief can make negative experiences more tolerable, leading to favorable memories.

For example, ending a workout with high-intensity exercises can leave you exhausted and uncomfortable, making you dread your next session. However, if you perform more strenuous exercises in the middle of your workout and save less intense drills for the end, you’ll feel better and come away with a more positive experience. It will also cause you to look forward to future workouts, enhancing the experience even further.

How To Avoid the Peak–End Rule

Some people want to avoid the peak–end rule to recall past events more accurately. Below are a few tips on doing this.

Don’t Focus On Negative Elements

Dwelling on an experience’s negative aspects can distort and worsen our memories. It’s best to focus on the positive aspects and forget trivial issues or experiences when possible. This will create a more positive memory and help ease your mind.

Reevaluate the Experience

Sometimes, reevaluating a negative memory will help you frame the experience in a positive light. Reframing an incident often provokes pleasant emotions that can alter your memory more positively.


Because our memories are so important, the peak–end rule affects all of us. There are some careers that employ the rule’s principles more than others. If this subject has intrigued you, we recommend looking into User Experience jobs