پیرامون روانشناسی 'اگر فقط' : حسرت و مقایسه بین نتایج واقعی و خلاف واقع
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|5014||2005||9 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 97, Issue 2, July 2005, Pages 152–160
People experience regret when they realize that they would have been better off had they decided differently. Hence, a central element in regret is the comparability of a decision outcome with the outcomes forgone. Up to now, however, the comparison process that is so essential to the experience of regret has not been the subject of psychological research. In this article, we tune in on the comparison dependency of regret. We argue that factors that reduce the tendency to compare attenuate regret, and demonstrate that uncertainty about counterfactual outcomes (Experiment 1), and incomparability of counterfactual and factual outcomes (Experiments 2 and 3) produce such effects.
Regret is a negative emotion that we experience when we realize or imagine that our present situation would have been better, if only we had decided differently. It is a common experience that has serious behavioral implications for our day-to-day behavior. These may stem from both the anticipation and experience of this emotion (for reviews, Connolly and Zeelenberg, 2002, Zeelenberg, 1999 and Zeelenberg et al., 2001). Hence, this emotion has attracted the attention of researchers in diverse fields, such as economics (Bell, 1982 and Loomes and Sugden, 1982), marketing (e.g., Inman, Dyer, & Jia, 1997), medicine (e.g., Brehaut et al., 2003), law (e.g., Guthrie, 1999), and in experimental (e.g., Mellers, Schwartz, & Ritov, 1999), social (e.g., Zeelenberg, van der Pligt, & Manstead, 1998), and cross-cultural psychology (e.g., Gilovich, Wang, Regan, & Nishina, 2003). To fully understand regret’s impact, it is important to develop our insights into the psychology of this emotion and the processes that may moderate it. To feel regret, one needs to run a mental simulation of what happened and what could have happened instead, and compare the two (Kahneman & Miller, 1986). Thus, regret is related to counterfactual thoughts about “what could have been” (Ritov, 1996 and Roese, 1997), and hence is the end result of a comparison process. Prior research, however, has mostly neglected this comparison process, and has paid little attention to how factual compare to counterfactual outcomes. As a result, we argue, this research has painted a rather incomplete picture of the conditions that generate regret.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Regret is rooted in a comparison of actual decision outcomes with counterfactual outcomes. In this article, we used this observation to gain more insight into the comparison process underlying regret. In particular, we were able to demonstrate that vulnerability to regret is moderated by the uncertainty people may experience regarding counterfactual outcomes, and the comparability of counterfactual outcomes with factual outcomes. The more fundamental contribution to regret research is that these findings bear directly on the comparison that underlies regret. We are not the first to theorize on the role of potential moderators regarding counterfactual outcomes. For example, Seelau, Seelau, Wells, and Windschitl (1995) argued that people do not consider all counterfactual outcomes and maintained that some counterfactual outcomes may be less available in memory and appear less lucid to people. The results of Experiment 1 add to this literature by investigating the moderating effect of uncertainty, and introducing a novel connection between counterfactual thinking and nonconsequential reasoning. Prior research on counterfactual reasoning implicitly assumed that if people generate counterfactuals (either because they generate these themselves or because they are offered some counterfactuals by the researcher), these counterfactual outcomes are consequential in the sense that they will be entered as an input in the comparison of what is with what could have been. The literature on nonconsequential reasoning (Shafir and Tversky, 1992 and Van Dijk and Zeelenberg, 2003) stresses that people do not always engage in consequential reasoning, and that one crucial aspect to consider is the (un)certainty people may experience regarding outcomes. The current findings suggest that the fact that people may not think through the consequences of uncertain counterfactual outcomes may be a blessing because it may protect people from the aversive feeling of regret. The second and third experiments on the comparability of counterfactual and factual outcomes illustrate a similar process in the sense that people may be less likely to engage in comparative reasoning if comparisons are more difficult to make. In this article, we show how the difficulty to compare may affect feelings of regret. In particular, the findings suggest that if outcomes are difficult to compare, people may be less likely to experience regret. As Experiment 3 shows, however, this regret-reducing aspect of the difficulty to compare can be overcome if the motivation to compare is high. On a more general level, our insights can be related to Tversky and Griffin’s (1991) contrast and endowment model of well-being that states that current well-being is not only dependent on current outcomes, but also on past experiences. The effect of endowment represents a direct effect of past outcomes: positive experiences make us happy and negative experiences make us unhappy. The contrast effect is more indirect. Satisfaction with current outcomes may be increased if the outcomes are preceded by a negative experience, because people may contrast their current outcome with their negative experience. Satisfaction with current outcomes may be decreased if the outcomes are preceded by a positive experience, because people may contrast their current outcome with their positive experience. This contrast effect is fueled by comparison. In this respect, it is noteworthy that Tversky and Griffin also reasoned that comparability of the past with the present may moderate the contrast effect. Contrast diminishes as the comparability of the past with the present diminishes: a bad meal at a Chinese restaurant has less effect on our reactions to a subsequent meal if we enjoy that meal in a French restaurant than if we enjoy it in a Chinese restaurant. The current findings are not only supportive of that reasoning, they also suggest that the basic reasoning extends beyond the temporal context of past versus current outcomes and well-being. A connection can also be made to Slovic, Griffin, and Tversky’s (1990) theorizing on the concept of compatibility. Slovic et al. investigated to what extent the compatibility between stimulus and response scale affects the weight that people assign to a stimulus attribute. Their basic prediction was that the weight of a stimulus attribute is greater when it matches the response scale than when it does not. To illustrate: in their Study 2, Slovic et al. had participants predict the performance of 10 target students in a history course on the basis of the students’ performance in two other courses (English literature and philosophy). For each of the target students, participants were given a letter grade (from A+ to D) in one course and a class rank (from 1 to 100) in the other course. Participants then had to predict how the students would perform in a history class. Half of the participants had to predict the students’ grade. The other half of the participants had to predict the students’ class rank. The results indicated that participants who had to predict the grade put more weight on grade information, and participants who had to predict class rank put more weight on class rank. The connection between this theorizing on compatibility and our theorizing on comparability is that in both cases it is assumed that comparisons that are more easy to make receive more weight in decision-making. Slovic et al., however, restricted their analysis to the relation between stimulus and response scale, whereas we concentrate on the comparison process of two stimuli (the comparison process that affects the regret responses). Another relation with comparability can be found in Hsee’s theorizing on “evaluability” (e.g., Hsee et al., 1999 and Hsee and Zhang, 2004). A central theme in this theorizing is that some attributes are difficult to evaluate, and that attributes that are difficult to evaluate have less impact on decision-making. With its focus on the ease of evaluation, the evaluability hypothesis shares some resemblance to our theorizing on the ease of comparing factual to counterfactual outcomes. Of course, an important difference is that the evaluability hypothesis mainly pertains to the evaluation of outcomes people obtain. The central issue in our studies is not whether outcomes are easy or difficult to evaluate, but whether factual and counterfactual outcomes are easy or difficult to compare. Another issue worthy of discussion is that in our scenario studies, regret ratings primarily reflected participants’ predictions on how they would feel. Such predictions of anticipated regret are essential for decision-making (Bell, 1982 and Loomes and Sugden, 1982), because decision-makers will try to minimize anticipated regret. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that predictions regarding anticipated emotions need not be accurate. For example, Gilbert and Ebert (2002) stated that when people anticipate how they will feel, they insufficiently anticipate the post decisional processes such as dissonance reduction, self-deception, ego defense, emotion-based coping, and so forth. In a recent article, Gilbert, Morewedge, Risen, and Wilson (2004) found that people may overestimate the regret in the sense that experienced regret may be lower than anticipated regret. The main explanation for this finding was that after a regretful experience, people may efficiently avoid self-blame. Because people do not anticipate this psychological process when they have to predict how they will feel, people overestimate regret. As Gilbert et al. put it: “regret can be a bit of a boogeyman, looming larger in prospect than it actually stands in experience” (p. 349). With these findings, Gilbert et al. did not mean to downplay the importance of anticipated regret for decision-making, and even noted that people’s decisions are often based on their beliefs about how they would feel (e.g., anticipated regret). Gilbert et al.’s findings do suggest that it is worthwhile in future research to complement the current findings on anticipated regret with assessments of experienced regret. That anticipations of regret need not necessarily be inaccurate was demonstrated by Mellers et al. (1999) in their Experiment 4. In this experiment, they examined the resemblance between anticipated and actual emotions, and found that “participants were good at predicting their feelings. Their predictions were not perfect; they did not seem to anticipate surprise, but they did anticipate the disappointment and regret they later experienced” (p. 341). Interestingly, they next speculated that prediction may especially be accurate in “simple situations, as found in our paradigm.” (p. 341). Mellers et al. studied choices between two alternatives, which in terms of complexity seems similar to our studies in which we informed participants about obtained and missed outcomes. It may be noted that in our studies we used a single-item measurement of regret that was also used in previous research on regret and decision making (e.g., Arkes et al., 2002, Crawford et al., 2002, Kray, 2000, Kumar, 2004, Ordóñez and Connolly, 2000, Zeelenberg and Pieters, 2004, Zeelenberg et al., 2002 and Zeelenberg et al., 2000). We thus stayed close to the methodology used in other experimental research to measure regret. One may wonder, however, whether we would also have obtained these findings if we would have used multiple items to measure regret. To address this question, we decided to test whether the results of Experiment 1 would be replicated if we would measure regret with more items. In this replication of Experiment 1 on 100 additional participants, we asked our participants five questions: ‘how much regret would you feel’ (i.e., the item we included in our studies), ‘how bad would you consider your decision,’ ‘to what extent would you feel that you should have chosen the other door,’ ‘would you prefer to have chosen the other door,’ and ‘to what extent would you regret your decision,’ all to be answered on 9-point scales (1 = not at all; 9 = very much). These measures were combined to form a reliable regret scale (α = 0.82). With this scale, the basic findings of Experiment 1 were replicated. The regret measure was significantly affected by our manipulations (F (3, 96) = 4.79, p < .01). LSD-comparisons (p < .05) again showed that regret was significantly lower in the Uncertain condition (M = 5.02) than in the other conditions (Mdinner for two = 6.17; Mwalkman = 6.54; and MCD = 6.10). This suggests that the findings we reported are not restricted to cases of single-item measurement. At this point, it is also appropriate to discuss the possible limitations of using scenario studies to measure (anticipated) regret. Although scenario studies are often used in research, some authors stress that one should be careful and acknowledge the potential limitations of scenario studies. One of the most stringent positions in this regard was advocated by Spencer (1978), who stated that hypothetical role-playing should only be used to assess demand characteristics. On the other hand, Connolly, Ordòñez, and Coughlan (1997, p. 83) argued with regard to anticipated regret ratings, that scenario studies adequately measure what they should measure: “if one’s interest in the area is in the possible decisional impact of anticipated regret.” Of special interest are the arguments provided by Greenberg and Eskew (1993). Their basic message was not that scenario studies are generally inappropriate or appropriate. Rather, they made some interesting recommendations on how scenario studies might look like, based on what should be considered to be the basic purpose of the studies. Restricting their arguments to organizational behavior, Greenberg and Eskew distinguished between two major purposes (p. 225): (a) describing the attitudes and/or behaviors of people in an organizational setting and (b) examining the basic human processes of perception, judgment, or cognition. Our current research fits best with the latter purpose, and it is for this purpose that the authors recommend that participants should have a low level of involvement and that responses should be limited. In this respect, they gave an example of a study on decision-making by Olshavsky (1979) in which participants had to imagine that they were going on a ski trip to Aspen, or that they were renting a stereo receiver. Information was limited, and this setup was described by Greenberg and Eskew not as a problem, but even as a virtue (p. 237). In our opinion, this setup very much resembles our setup, and definitely our main purpose, that is to reveal basic information about the fundamental comparison process that underlies regret: the fact that counterfactuals regarding “what could have been” are often surrounded with uncertainty, and often of a different kind than “what is.” Taken together, our studies show the benefits a process oriented approach for the understanding of the psychology of “if only.” In particular, they indicate that the consequences of “what could have been” for how we feel may be limited if “what could have been” is of a different kind than “what is,” either because the counterfactual outcomes are uncertain, or because they are difficult to compare with our factual outcomes. We thus argue that both aspects—uncertainty and comparability—may each attenuate feelings of regret because they both affect the tendency to compare factual to counterfactual outcomes. It may also be noted, that in our Experiment 1 on the effect of uncertainty, we used products that in terms of Experiments 2 and 3 could be described as less comparable (i.e., CDs, dinner for two, walkman, and stress ball). This raises the question of whether uncertainty effects would also be obtained in situations of greater comparability. For example, what if one would learn that one obtained 1 CD, and the missed prizes were 20 CDs, 30 CDs, 40 CDs, or uncertain (i.e., either 20, 30, or 40)? One could argue that in such a setting uncertainty may not have a strong dampening effect on regret ratings because people may reason that even though it is uncertain whether one misses out on 20, 30, or 40 CDs, it is certain that one at least misses out on 20 CDs. A recent study by Van Dijk and Zeelenberg (2003) on effects of uncertainty on economic decision-making suggests, however, that even under such conditions the disjunction effect may operate. For example, in one of these studies it was investigated to what extent uncertainty would affect the likelihood of people to fall prey to the sunk cost effect (Arkes & Blumer, 1985; i.e., the tendency for increased risk-taking after having incurred sunk costs). To study this, participants were presented a typical sunk cost scenario and either learned that the sunk costs were low (500,000 Guilders), high (1.5 million Guilders), or that the size of the sunk costs were uncertain (i.e., at the minimum 500,000 Guilders and 1.5 million Guilders at the maximum). The results indicated that participants fell prey to the sunk cost effect in the low sunk costs condition, in the high sunk costs condition, but not in the uncertain sunk costs condition. That is, in line with the basic tenet of the disjunction effect, participants did not base their decisions on the uncertain information, even though in this case too, participants in the uncertain conditions could have reasoned that the costs would in any case be at least 500,000 Guilders. These findings suggest that the disjunction effect also operates when the outcomes involved under uncertainty are easy to compare. In a way, our findings may set the record straight on the experience of regret. The formal definition of regret (i.e., regret results from an unfavorable comparison of “what is” with “what could have been”) would lead one to expect that the human kind is constantly haunted by feelings of regret because there will always be infinite ways in which we might have obtained higher outcomes if only we had decided differently. The fact that many of these counterfactual outcomes are surrounded with uncertainty and/or are of a different kind, may explain why we manage to be happy with what we have got rather than dwell on what we missed. The above also suggests that there may be a functional side to the matter: uncertainty and incomparability may function as a protective shield, attenuating excessive feelings of regret. In this respect, we believe that, in addition to cognitive explanations that focus on the cognitive complexity of comparing dissimilar outcomes (e.g., Medin et al., 1995) and thinking through uncertain situations (e.g., Shafir, 1994 and Shafir and Tversky, 1992), there may be a motivational component at work. By excluding the unknown and the incomparable, we may be better able to experience life without the constant nagging feeling of regret.