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Choices and regrets in children’s counterfactual thinking. Sarah Beck University of Birmingham Patrick Burns, Kevin Riggs, Daniel Weisberg. Counterfactual thinking. ‘If only I had left the house earlier, I would have caught the train...’ ‘I should have set an alarm’ ‘I almost made it’

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choices and regrets in children s counterfactual thinking

Choices and regrets in children’s counterfactual thinking

Sarah Beck

University of Birmingham

Patrick Burns, Kevin Riggs, Daniel Weisberg

counterfactual thinking
Counterfactual thinking
  • ‘If only I had left the house earlier, I would have caught the train...’
  • ‘I should have set an alarm’
  • ‘I almost made it’
  • Experience of regret
why look at development
Why look at development?
  • What are children’s capacities?
  • Understanding the process of counterfactual thinking can be easier in earlier stages of a developing system
  • Include more ‘indirect’ measures to tap children’s abilities (difficulties with formal language might be avoided in behavioural tasks?)
children s counterfactual thinking and emotions
Children’s counterfactual thinking and emotions

Development of counterfactual thinking

  • 3-4 shift (Harris et al, 1996; Riggs et al, 1998)
  • Later developments:
    • Complex conditionals: Rafetseder, Cristi-Vargas, Perner, 2010
    • ‘What else could have happened?’ Beck et al, 2006
    • Almosts (Harris, 1997, Beck & Guthrie, in press)

Development of counterfactual emotions

  • 7 yr olds understand regret, Guttentag & Ferrell, 2004
  • experience regret,
    • Amsel & Smalley, 2000
    • 5-6 yrs Weisberg & Beck, 2010
    • 6-7 yrs O’Connor et al, under sub
    • 10-11yrs Rafetseder & Perner, under sub
why look at counterfactual emotions
Why look at counterfactual emotions?
  • Cognition and emotion
  • Function of counterfactual thinking (e.g. Roese, 1997)
  • Why is there a developmental lag (if there is one)?
    • Spontaneity?
    • Domain general constraints (EF)?
    • Are we really measuring regret?
experiencing counterfactual emotions
Experiencing Counterfactual Emotions
  • Simplified CFE game
  • Choose between 2 boxes
  • See contents of chosen box
  • Rate happiness on scale
  • See unchosen contents
  • Re-rate happiness with your box
  • Regret and Relief trials
  • 11 5-6, 10 6-7, 10 7-8, 12 adults

Chosen:

2 stickers

Unchosen:

8 stickers (regret)

OR empty (relief)

Weisberg & Beck, 2010, JECP

experiencing counterfactual emotions1
Experiencing Counterfactual Emotions
  • Difference score (first – second rating)
  • -ve = regret, +ve = relief
  • All groups showed regret, and no differences between groups
  • Only 7-8 year olds and adults experienced relief

Weisberg & Beck, 2010, JECP

methodological problems
Methodological problems
  • The scale
    • Difficult to show relief if you are happy winning first sticker
    • Sensitivity?
  • Is this a result of double questioning?
    • Rafetseder & Perner (under submission).
improvements to method new rating scale
Improvements to method:New rating scale
  • Children chose between two cards: win/lose tokens
    • Regret-Win trials (Win 2/3, could have won 8)Regret-Lose trials (Lost 2/3, could have won 3)
    • Relief-Win trials (Win 2/3, could have lost 3)Relief-Lose trials (Lost 2/3, could have lost 8)
results
Results
  • Age 4-5, n = 55, m = 5;1, r = 4;8 – 5;7, 29 males
  • Age 5-6, n = 52, m = 6;2, r = 5;8 – 6;7, 27 males
  • Age 6-7, n = 55, m = 7;3, r = 6;8 – 7;8, 31 males

Regret-Win trials (Win 2/3, could have won 8) – Experienced at 5, p = .001Regret-Lose trials (Lost 2/3, could have won 3) – Experienced at 5, p < .001

Relief-Win trials (Win 2/3, could have lost 3) – Experienced at 5, p < .001Relief-Lose trials (Lost 2/3, could have lost 8) – Experienced at 7, p = .010

Weisberg & Beck, under submission

are these really counterfactual emotions
Are these really counterfactual emotions?
  • Do children need to do cf thinking to ‘pass’ our boxes task?
  • Choose between 2 boxes
  • See contents of chosen box
  • Rate happiness on scale
  • See unchosen contents
  • Re-rate happiness with your box

“I should have picked the other box”

Counterfactual

“I don’t have those 8 stickers”

Frustration

Weisberg & Beck, in prep.

are these really counterfactual emotions1
Are these really counterfactual emotions?
  • “I should have picked the other box” (counterfactual)
  • OR “I don’t have those 8 stickers” (frustration)
  • Adult literature suggests that feeling of responsibility increases likelihood of regret (Byrne, 2002; Roese & Olson, 1995; Zeelenberg et al, 1998)
  • Correlation between life regrets and responsibility (Zeelenberg et al, 1998)
adults making choices
Adults making ‘choices’
  • Is there really a ‘choice’ in the boxes game?
  • Illusion of control (Langer 1975....)
  • People who chose a lottery ticket (based on a picture ) compared to those allocated ticket:
    • Less likely to resell
    • Value their ticket more
  • Even though the decision is arbitrary their judgments are influenced by the apparent ‘choice’
choice chance and regret
Choice, Chance and regret
  • Children played the boxes game in one of three conditions:
    • Choose which box you win
    • Experimenter rolls die to determine which box
    • Child rolls die to determine which box
  • If children are simply frustrated, this manipulation shouldn’t affect them
  • If they are thinking counterfactually, more ‘regret’ in choice condition.

Weisberg & Beck, under sub.

choice chance experiment
Choice/Chance experiment
  • 5-6yrs N = 101
  • 6-7yrs N = 94
  • 7-8yrs N = 102
choice chance and regret1
Choice, chance and regret
  • All three conditions differ from each other on both CFE
  • Regret/relief only differ in the choice condition
  • Children’s ratings at all ages are influenced by choice manipulation
  • Evidence for counterfactual emotions (in choice)

Weisberg & Beck, in prep.

the child throws condition
The child throws condition
  • Don’t realise it’s chance – illusion of control
    • if IoC might predict a difference between relief and regret trials.
  • Do realise it’s chance but still some opportunity for counterfactual emotions?
  • Adults show counterfactual emotions under some chance events (e.g. Imagine being allocated lottery ticket 245 when 246 wins?)
choice and chance in regret
Choice and Chance in regret
  • Choice experiment finds evidence for change in emotion in 5-7 year olds when they make a choice about the outcome (to some extent when involved)
  • But not when outcome is determined by chance
  • Double-questioning can’t be the only problem
  • Indirect measures of counterfactual thought
  • Counterfactual emotions develop in middle childhood – involve something more than being able to answer simple conditional questions.