Cognitive Psychology

The Peak-End Theory Explains Our Experience of the Impeachment Acquittal

The second impeachment trial of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber ended on an incredibly sour note. No one, and I mean absolutely no one, is happy with the ending of the trial. Even though, there were a number of things to be happy about. Here let’s count them:

  • The number of Repube votes for conviction was surprisingly high, but still, predictably, short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict
  • It is the most bipartisan vote for impeachment and conviction in the history of the country with approximately 17% of the GOP voting against the Ol’ Pussy Grabber
  • The House Trial Managers put on a masterful display of evidence proving Trump’s guilt
  • The video that the House Managers used and their oration were emotionally intense and immensely gratifying
  • Over 52% of the population believes Trump should’ve been convicted
  • MqQonnell says he’s guilty even though he voted to acquit
  • The defense lawyers put on a master class of ineptness and ineffectiveness that defies explanation
  • The Ol’ Pussy Grabber is being investigated for criminal charges in multiple state and federal jurisdictions
  • The 2022 campaign commercials have practically written themselves

The list of things that we can be happy about with the trial goes on and on. The one thing that you might expect could be upsetting about the outcome — acquittal — was expected. So, why are so many people just gnashing their teeth, scraping their boils, and rending the clothes over it all?

While several psychological findings explain our disappointment and emotional confusion with the ending of the impeachment trial, none do it better than the peak-end experience.

Peak-End Experience

Peak-end experience is Daniel Kahneman’s conjecture that the degree that we like an event or how positively or negatively we remember an event being is based on two factors: the most emotionally intense moment of the event and how we felt at the end of the event. Thus, the name, peak-end experience.

Kahneman arrived at his formulation by studying people’s experience of their colonoscopies — a singularly unpleasant event. He used a variety of measurements and a surprisingly large sample (over 600 participants). Here’s what he did:

  • Every 60 seconds, he had his participants rate the pain they were experiencing on an eleven-point scale (0 to 10).
  • Rate the entire experience
  • Compare the experience to other unpleasant events
  • Rate their memory of the experience some time after it ended

He found that the best predictor of their rating of the memory of the colonoscopy was an average of the most intense moments of pain during the procedure and the average of the pain experienced during the last three minutes. He tested the prediction by convincing a second set of colonoscopy patients to participate in a similar study. Unbeknownst to them, though, half of them were randomly selected to have the colonoscope left in their rectum for an extra unnecessary minute. While it wouldn’t produce any intense pain, it would be an extra minute of discomfort.

Because it was part of the average of the last three minutes, it should bring that average down — no painful movements of the wand were made. So it should make their memory of the procedure less terrible, and it did.

The Peak-End Experience of the Impeachment Trial

I don’t know about you, but I found the impeachment trial to be an emotionally intense event. All of those video tape montages of Trump’s Insurrection Riot just left me grieving but enthralled. Everyone of the Impeachment Managers orations left me grateful and proud. Hearing the descriptions of the Repubes reactions to the videotaped evidence left me hopeful. In an odd way, I enjoyed it. I guess it was similar to what BDSM is like — not that I’d have any direct knowledge of anything like that or anything.

It was great fun to listen to the pontificating pontificators on all the pontification cable shows pontificate on how wonderful the House Impeachment Managers did and how bumbling and foolish the defense lawyers seemed. I’ll never forget the derisive laughter that rained down on van der Veen when he threatened to call Nancy Pelosi to his Phily-adelphia office for a deposition. Comedy gold, amirite?

The most emotionally intense moments were the opening montage of the riot and the radio calls of the capitol police pleading for help as they’re being overrun. They both left me sad and angry and their effectiveness left me feeling a wee bit hopeful. Who couldn’t feel empathy for the police in that situation? Who couldn’t feel outrage at watching these jackasses rampage through the capitol at the behest and direction of people who had planned on the moment?

Please leave a comment about what you found most intense during the trial. We would love to hear from you.

As the trial was winding up, we were expecting the Repubes to vote mostly as a block for acquittal making it impossible to reach the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. We also knew that MqQonnell was teasing us with possibilities of voting to convict, but anyone who thought about it knew that to get 17 Repubes to vote for conviction would need some hard whipping of the vote by somebody and that somebody weren’t no MqQonnell.

Then, the witness fiasco happened. I say fiasco not because there is a solid case for witnesses or against but because of what it did to our expectations and emotions. As information became known about Rep Jaime Herrera-Beutler’s conversation with Kevin MqQarthy about his phone call with the Ol’ Pussy Grabber during the insurrection riot, a big push for witnesses developed on social media — it is doubtful whether that had any effect on the Impeachment Managers, though.

And, then, on Saturday morning there they were calling for witnesses with all the panicking threats of calling a 100, no 300, no 1,000, no 5,000 witnesses by the Trump side threatening to drag this thing out for years. We were all hopeful that witnesses would be called. Visions of MqQarthy and Pence squirming in the witness chair forced to tell us all that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber incited the riot were dancing in our heads. This could be the moment that snaps the Repubes back to reality or at least 17 of them.

And, then, just as quickly, it all died. Amid a clatter of confusion and contrary speculation by pundits everywhere and backroom meetings sans cigars and bourbon a deal was struck that struck witnesses all together. And, millions of resisters were crestfallen.

The vote was a disappointing wimper. We all left heads down, mouths drawn feeling like opportunities were missed and not quite sure what had just happened.

Now, when we look back at the trial, instead of one glorious transcendent moment when we proved to the world what anti-democratic authoritarians the Repubes were when we went down fighting the good fight, all we have is this feeling of dis-ease and uncertainty. Something bad seems to have happened. It is that peak-end experience at work.

We will always remember the the impeachment trial as being disappointing and with a nagging feeling that it could’ve gone better. It is too bad since the House Impeachment Managers did such a wonderful job prosecuting the case and we got SEVEN Repubes to vote for conviction. SEVEN. It’s never been done before.

If you’ve enjoyed this explanation of our disappointment and emotional confusion at the end of the Impeachment trial, sign up for our email list and never miss a post!

Image Attribution

“Colonoscopy?” by rollanb is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

14 replies »

  1. I’ve figured that McConnell would only vote to convict if he knew that 26 other Republicans would do it, a majority of the caucus. He is more attached to his position as Leader than to any moral value or oath as a juror. He is still going to catch flying poop for what he said about Trump actually being guilty.

    The House Managers presented a case that any smart prosecutor (Federal or State) can pretty much add some witnesses and take to court. That is very likely to happen. DOJ is not going to move forward on any major new indictments until Garland is confirmed and on the job. Republicans in the confirmation hearings will try to get him to admit to a “Get Trump” agenda, which he is way to smart to do, or talk about what plans are afoot. He will respond that as a sitting Appellate judge, he cannot have a position on Trump’s guilt absent a case before the court, and that he cannot know what the lawyers at DOJ are thinking until he gets there.

    The Defense team had very little to work with, mainly the rather silly but useful claim that it is unconstitutional to try a former President. That is the primary fig leaf the Repubs used to cover their shame. The witness fight only showed how terrified they were of real witness testimony, even though it is not done in person, but by deposition. The scary part for them was the possibility of actual confession of conspiracy with Trump or associates by members of groups organized in the invasion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!
      I think it isn’t worth being in the Senate if he isn’t the majority leader. He counted the votes and realized that if he voted in the minority, he wouldn’t even be the minority leader any more much less the majority when and if it ever occurred again. But, the GOP has a donor problem. The Trumpists and QAnon and MAGAs actually can get by on small dollar donors, but Mitch and others need big dollar donors. Those corporate donors do not want to donate to the insurrection party. He’s got a narrow path to walk to try to keep both sides appeased, which may not be possible.

      The problem with the DoJ charging him with insurrection or other criminal offenses is the burden of proof. It is much higher in a criminal court than it is in an impeachment trial in the Senate. The DoJ will investigate him and only indict if they think they can make the case. Between the burden of proof and witness intimidation by Trump and friends, they may not bring charges. Much of the evidence the Impeachment Managers presented does not qualify as evidence in criminal court.

      The witness question was a double edged sword for the Impeachment Managers, too. If they called MqQarthy, he could easily have perjured himself saying that Trump never told him those things. What could’ve been done then? Clearly, MqQarthy would’ve been willing to commit perjury, whether he would’ve or not, is an open question. Then, there’s the issue of fighting the subpoenas. They’re still sorting out the Don McGann subpoena from last year during the first impeachment trial. The real mistake was opening the pandora’s box to begin with. It raised expectations that just couldn’t be met. The disappointment colored our memory and feelings about the trial which was really very successful.


      Liked by 1 person

      • At DOJ, and among prosecutors in general, they don’t like to go to court unless they think they have a better than even chance of winning, if not a slam dunk. The Georgia case is pretty simple and clear. He said what he said and it is on tape and witnessed. The problems there, and in any cases with Trump, are going to be witness intimidation, finding 12 people who have been living under a rock for five years and have no strong opinion about Trump, and jury intimidation, or if possible, keeping the jury anonymous and safe. Civil suits are happening, and the purden of proof is lower there (Preponderance of the evidence). Those voting machine companies are almost certain to go after Trump as well as his lawyers and media enablers. They will want to discover who wrote the script on that story and who paid for it (“Follow the money.”).

        One thing Mitch cannot do in treading that narrow path now is to appear to cooperate in any way with the Democrats and Biden. He has to make a great show of being the leader of the opposition (which he is very good at). Even so, he may not be able to hold together the coalition of the Standard Conservatives and Trumpists and Tin Foil Hats. Trump will clearly not help him do that, and is likely to do more harm to it if he tries.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!
          I heard on The Rachel Maddow Show tonight that the Georgia legislature is attempting to amend the state constitution so that any grand jury investigating elections has to be drawn statewide no matter the jurisdiction of the prosecutor so that the Fulton County case would not go before the Fulton County grand jury but before this special statewide grand jury. I may not pass given the composition of the Georgia legislature. It should get challenged in court, too, so we’ll see how it affects the Georgia case.

          It is just another example of groupthink and cognitive dissonance. Is there any more transparent attempt to protect Trump and disadvantage the individual citizens, especially PoC? The shere chutzpah of it is amazing.

          MqQonnell like Pence should not entertain the possibility that he will ever enjoy the support of MAGA nation ever again. He should realize that his only hope for any future political relevance now lies in the never Trump side of the party. With his speech and op-ed, he’s lost the support of 85% of the Senate, unless it is a secret ballot.


          Liked by 2 people

          • I heard an interview this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition of the Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party which just censured Senator Burr for his vote to convict. He wiggled. He squirmed. He spun. trying to get around still backing The Big Lie and Trump bearing any responsibility for the insurrection. []

            The GOP’s desperate need to disenfranchise POC and urbanites in general will take any form it can imagine. The Georgia grand jury attempt is one that may well be repeated in other states. I suspect a draft of Model Legislation has come out of one of the think tanks, or soon will.

            McConnell seems to be not so much in the Never Trump camp, but in the Trump Buyer’s Remorse camp. He has not yet said that the party made a huge mistake following Trump in the first place, and probably will not. If Biden’s agenda can instill gratitude and confidence in effective government action for ordinary people, and Trump continues to stoke conflict within the GOP, The Dems just might prevail in 2022.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              Thanks for the interview.He certainly squirmed, but he did admit that (a) the trial was constitutional since the Senate voted that it was and (b) Trump lost the electoral college vote. He did later acknowledge that that made Biden the president since that’s the way we do it. It is funny how the Republicans will say one thing to the MSM media but when you catch them on Fox News or OANN, they will be pandering to the base.

              Right now they are all scared of a Stacey Abrams-like voter turnout operation and the effect that not having Trump on the ballot will have. I don’t think any of them are really thinking about how Trump will crater their chances in 2022 like he did in Georgia by harping on about the stolen election and barely mentioning candidates he’s endorsed. He’ll attack the ones that voted for impeachment or conviction, though. No one in the GOP, other than maybe McConnell, realize that they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

              It will be fun to watch. Hopefully, the Democrats can keep it together enough to actually win.


              Liked by 1 person

                • Howdy Bob!

                  Thanks for the link. I’ll have a listen later today.

                  I am fascinated by rank-order voting. I’m not sure about its implications in electoral politics. I can’t imagine that the GOP would be happy with it, though. Alaska is an interesting state. They elected Sarah Palin (2006) and they elected Murkowski (2010) as a write in candidate after she lost a primary to a more radical Republican candidate.

                  My guess is that rank-order voting will regress the vote to the mean while allowing people to vote for their first choice.


                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Rank order voting does seem to have potential to at least reduce the primary election pattern of pathetically low turnout and the loudest, angriest, radical and single issue voters picking the candidates. I was thinking about the most recent Congressional election here (NC 11th District) which gave us Cawthorn. In this gerrymandered Red district, my strategy would be #1-Best Dem, #2-least bad Repub, #3-second best Dem, #4- second least bad Repub. That way, if nobody tops 50%, my #4’s votes go to my #2, then if 50% still isn’t reached, my #3’s votes go to my #1.

                    Liked by 1 person

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