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Choices and regrets in children’s counterfactual thinking Sarah Beck University of Birmingham Patrick Burns, Kevin Riggs, Daniel Weisberg.

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Presentation on theme: "Choices and regrets in children’s counterfactual thinking Sarah Beck University of Birmingham Patrick Burns, Kevin Riggs, Daniel Weisberg."— Presentation transcript:

1 Choices and regrets in children’s counterfactual thinking Sarah Beck University of Birmingham Patrick Burns, Kevin Riggs, Daniel Weisberg

2 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

3 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?)

4 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

5 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?

6 Experiencing Counterfactual Emotions Simplified CFE game 1.Choose between 2 boxes 2.See contents of chosen box 3.Rate happiness on scale 4.See unchosen contents 5.Re-rate happiness with your box Regret and Relief trials , , , 12 adults Chosen: 2 stickers Unchosen: 8 stickers (regret) OR empty (relief) Weisberg & Beck, 2010, JECP

7 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

8 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).

9 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)

10 Results Regret-Win trials (Win 2/3, could have won 8) – Experienced at 5, p =.001 Regret-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 <.001 Relief-Lose trials (Lost 2/3, could have lost 8) – Experienced at 7, p =.010 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 Weisberg & Beck, under submission

11 Are these really counterfactual emotions? Do children need to do cf thinking to ‘pass’ our boxes task? 1.Choose between 2 boxes 2.See contents of chosen box 3.Rate happiness on scale 4.See unchosen contents 5.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.

12 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)

13 Adults making ‘choices’ Is there really a ‘choice’ in the boxes game? Illusion of control (Langer ) 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’

14 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.

15 Choice/Chance experiment 5-6yrs N = yrs N = yrs N = 102

16 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.

17 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?)

18 Choice? Is it possible that what differentiates out task from Rafetseder & Perner is the element of choice? Two boxes – same colour – Weisberg & Beck – Rafetseder & Perner Two cards – same colour (although in chance versions on coloured mats) – Weisberg & Beck these experiments Two boxes – different colours & pictures – O’Connor et al No clear relationship – warrants further investigation

19 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.


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