A psychological factor that may contribute to the description-experience gap is recency (Hertwig et al., 2004). Ubiquitously observed in memory, belief updating, and judgments (Hogarth & Einhorn, 1992), recency refers to the phenomenon that observations made late in a sequence receive more weight than they deserve (i.e., more than 1/n). Recency is closely related to reliance on small samples: The small sample of recent events can reintroduce the aforementioned skew into large samples of experience. Although the original finding was that people give more weight to recent than to previous outcomes in the flow of their experience (Hertwig et al., 2004), little or no impact of recency was observed in later studies (Hau et al., 2010; Rakow et al., 2008; Ungemach et al., 2009).
In theory, the description-experience gap could also be the result of a systematic estimation error (Fox & Hadar, 2006), with people systematically underestimating the frequencies of the rare event experienced in the sample. Studies of frequency and probability assessments, however, commonly report overestimation of rare events (Hertwig, Pachur, & Kurzenhauser, 2005; Lichtenstein et al., 1978). Moreover, studies recording people’s estimates of rare events in the sampling paradigm found them to be well calibrated or a little too high relative to the experienced frequency (Hau et al., 2008; Ungemach et al., 2009). That is, people do not systematically estimate rare things to be even rarer than they statistically are.