Comparisons, mental models, and the action effect in judgments of regret

Aidan Feeney, S.J. Handley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

People tend to attribute more regret to a character who has decided to take action and experienced a negative outcome than to one who has decided not to act and experienced a negative outcome. For some decisions, however, this finding is not observed in a between-participants design and thus appears to rely on comparisons between people's representations of action and their representations of inaction. In this article, we outline a mental models account that explains findings from studies that have used within- and between-participants designs, and we suggest that, for decisions with uncertain counterfactual outcomes, information about the consequences of a decision to act causes people to flesh out their representation of the counterfactual states of affairs for inaction. In three experiments, we confirm our predictions about participants' fleshing out of representations, demonstrating that an action effect occurs only when information about the consequences of action is available to participants as they rate the nonactor and when this information about action is informative with respect to judgments about inaction. It is important to note that the action effect always occurs when the decision scenario specifies certain counterfactual outcomes. These results suggest that people sometimes base their attributions of regret on comparisons among different sets of mental models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1422-1430
Number of pages9
JournalMemory & Cognition
Volume34
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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