Counterfactual seeking: The Scenic Overlook of the Road not Taken

  • Summerville A
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Abstract

Decision makers faced with an opportunity to learn the outcome of a foregone alternative must balance anticipated regret, should that information be unfavorable, with the potential benefits of this information in reducing experienced regret. Counterfactual seeking, the choice to learn more about foregone alternatives, may be a functional, regret-regulating strategy for individuals already experiencing regret. Counterfactual seeking increases in response to dissatisfying outcomes (Studies 1 and 2). Counterfactual seeking is generally able to reduce dissatisfaction (Study 2), regardless of whether individuals personally chose to view this information or were randomly assigned to do so (Study 3). Moreover, both imaginative (vs. factual) thoughts about the foregone option and upward (vs. downward) counterfactual thoughts play a role in this improvement in satisfaction (Study 4). Regret thus has a complex influence in how individuals engage with counterfactual information.

Author-supplied keywords

  • affect
  • counterfactual
  • decision making
  • information seeking
  • regret

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