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Executive control and the experience of regret

Riggs, Kevin; Burns, Patrick; Riggs, Kevin J.; Beck, Sarah R.


Patrick Burns

Sarah R. Beck


The experience of regret rests on a counterfactual analysis of events. Previous research indicates that regret emerges at around 6 years of age, marginally later than the age at which children begin to answer counterfactual questions correctly. We hypothesized that the late emergence of regret relative to early counterfactual thinking is a result of the executive demands of simultaneously holding in mind and comparing dual representations of reality (counterfactual and actual). To test this hypothesis, we administered two regret tasks along with four tests of executive function (two working memory tasks, a switch task, and an inhibition task) to a sample of 104 4- to 7-year-olds. Results indicated that switching, but not working memory or inhibition, was a significant predictor of whether or not children experienced regret. This finding corroborates and extends previous research showing that the development of counterfactual thinking in children is related to their developing executive competence.


Burns, P., Riggs, K. J., & Beck, S. R. (2012). Executive control and the experience of regret. Journal of experimental child psychology, 111(3), 501-515.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 6, 2011
Online Publication Date Nov 23, 2011
Publication Date 2012-03
Journal Journal of experimental child psychology
Print ISSN 0022-0965
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 111
Issue 3
Pages 501-515
Public URL
Publisher URL