The Lure of Counterfactual Curiosity: People Incur a Cost to Experience Regret



FitzGibbon L, Komiya A & Murayama K (2021) The Lure of Counterfactual Curiosity: People Incur a Cost to Experience Regret. Psychological Science, 32 (2), pp. 241-255.

After you make a decision, it is sometimes possible to seek information about how things would be if you had acted otherwise. We investigated the lure of this counterfactual information, namely, counterfactual curiosity. In a set of five experiments (total N = 150 adults), we used an adapted Balloon Analogue Risk Task with varying costs of information. At a cost, people were willing to seek information about how much they could have won, even though it had little utility and a negative emotional impact (i.e., it led to regret). We explored the downstream effects of seeking information on emotion, behavior adjustment, and ongoing performance, showing that it has little or even negative performance benefit. We also replicated the findings with a large-sample (N = 361 adults) preregistered experiment that excluded possible alternative explanations. This suggests that information about counterfactual alternatives has a strong motivational lure—people simply cannot help seeking it.

information seeking; risk; decision making; emotions; rewards; open data; open materials; preregistered

Psychological Science: Volume 32, Issue 2

FundersLeverhulme Trust, Leverhulme Trust, American Psychological Foundation, Jacobs Foundation, JSPS KAKENHI, JSPS KAKENHI, JSPS KAKENHI and JSPS KAKENHI
Publication date28/02/2021
Publication date online13/01/2021
Date accepted by journal30/07/2020
PublisherSAGE Publications

People (1)


Dr Lily FitzGibbon
Dr Lily FitzGibbon

Lecturer in Psychology, Psychology