Counterfactual Thinking

Essay by kezr92University, Bachelor'sA, November 2014

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Counterfactual Thinking

When and how do children experience regret?

Major Research Essay: Psyc241

Student number: 4075274

School: University of Wollongong

Word count: 1506

The experience of regret arguably relies on a multifaceted, counterfactual analysis of two previously possible outcomes. An important question to consider is at what age these counterfactual emotions develop, and what enables these responses to occur. Previous research proposes that regret emerges at around 4 years old, marginally earlier than more recent studies conducted by Guttentag and Ferrell, who suggest that the experience of regret occurs relatively late in child development. The results of these studies argue that understanding, rather than simply experiencing counterfactual emotions relies heavily on a child's ability to simultaneously conceive alternate realities, and that a recognition of differing outcomes is a necessary, rather than sufficient component of the development of regret. These findings accumulate and extend previous research, and demonstrate that the development of counterfactual thinking in children is positively correlated with a complex cognitive processing of two alternate realities.

The experience of regret and relief are counterfactual emotions based on a comparison of reality with a better, alternative situation. Counterfactual emotions are considered to perform important emotional regulatory functions, and require additional complex cognitive processing than more basic emotions such as anger, fear or happiness. They require us to consider 'dual possibilities' (Byrne, 2002) in which both outcomes were possible at some point in the past. The ability to experience emotions such as regret is believed to play an important role in decision-making following the emergence into adulthood. Significant differences however, exist between when children are thought to first experience regret. It is arguable that children's understanding of regret develops relatively late due to the complex nature of not only comprehending counterfactual thinking (Guttentag and Ferrell, 2004), which requires an identification and...