Citation Rafetseder E & Perner J (2012) When the alternative would have been better: Counterfactual reasoning and the emergence of regret. Cognition and Emotion, 26 (5), pp. 800-819. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2011.619744
Abstract Counterfactual reasoning about how events could have turned out better is associated with the feeling of regret. However, developmental studies show a discrepancy between the onset of counterfactual reasoning (at 3 years) and the feeling of regret (at 6 years). In four experiments we explored possible reasons. Experiment 1 (3- to 6-year-old children) and Experiment 2 (adult control) show that even when regret is assessed more directly than in previous studies (e.g., Amsel & Smalley, 2000) only adults but not children regret their decision. Experiment 3 (3- to 14-year-old children) suggests that double-questioning-asking children how happy they are with what they got before and after they had seen what they could have got-creates false positive indications of regret in the youngest children and that-when controlling for false positives-regret is not evident before 9 years. However, children before this age make a difference between attractive (three candies) and less attractive (one candy) items (Experiment 4; 6- to 8-year-old children). Taken together, this suggests that before 9 years of age children base their judgements solely on what they got without taking into account what they could have got.