In three studies, we explored how the ending of a life influences the perceived desirability of that life. We consistently observed that participants neglected duration in judging the global quality of life. Across all the studies, the end of life was weighted heavily, producing ratings that contradict a simple hedonic calculus in which years of pleasure and pain are summed. Respondents rated a wonderful life that ended abruptly as better than one with additional mildly pleasant years (the “James Dean Effect”). Similarly, a terrible life with additional moderately bad years was rated as more desirable than one ending abruptly without those unpleasant years (the “Alexander Solzhenitsyn Effect”). Finally, embedding moderately intense years in the middle of life did not produce effects as strong as adding those years to the end of life, suggesting that a life’s ending is weighted especially heavily in judging quality of life.
Diener, E., Wirtz, D., & Oishi, S. (2001). End effects of rated life quality: The James Dean effect. Psychological science, 12(2), 124-128.