Regret and adaptive decision making in young children

Eimear O’connor, Teresa Mccormack, Sarah R. Beck, Aidan Feeney

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20 Citations (Scopus)
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In line with the claim that regret plays a role in decision making, O’Connor, McCormack, and Feeney (Child Development, 85 (2014) 1995–2010) found that children who reported feeling sadder on discovering they had made a non-optimal choice were more likely to make a different choice the next time around. We examined two issues of interpretation regarding this finding: whether the emotion measured was indeed regret and whether it was the experience of this emotion, rather than the ability to anticipate it, that affected decision making. To address the first issue, we varied the degree to which children aged 6 or 7 years were responsible for an outcome, assuming that responsibility is a necessary condition for regret. The second issue was addressed by examining whether children could accurately anticipate that they would feel worse on discovering they had made a non-optimal choice. Children were more likely to feel sad if they were responsible for the outcome; however, even if they were not responsible, children were more likely than chance to report feeling sadder. Moreover, across all conditions, feeling sadder was associated with making a better subsequent choice. In a separate task, we demonstrated that children of this age cannot accurately anticipate feeling sadder on discovering that they had not made the best choice. These findings suggest that although children may feel regret following a non-optimal choice, even if they were not responsible for an outcome, they may experience another negative emotion such as frustration. Experiencing either of these emotions seems to be sufficient to support better decision making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-92
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date3 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • Experienced regret
  • Anticipated regret
  • Decision making
  • Development
  • Choice switching
  • Responsibility


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