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Counterfactual curiosity: motivated thinking about what might have been

Fitzgibbon, L. ORCID: and Murayama, K. (2022) Counterfactual curiosity: motivated thinking about what might have been. Philsophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 377 (1866). 20210340. ISSN 1471-2970

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2021.0340


Counterfactual information, information about what might have been, forms the content of counterfactual thoughts and emotions like regret and relief. Recent research suggests that human adults and children, as well as rhesus monkeys, demonstrate ‘counterfactual curiosity’: they are motivated to seek out counterfactual information after making decisions. Based on contemporary theories of curiosity and information seeking and a broad range of empirical literature, we suggest multiple heterogeneous psychological processes that contribute to people's motivation for counterfactual information. This includes processes that are identified in the curiosity literature more generally—the potential use of counterfactual information for adaptive decision making (its long-term instrumental value) and the drive to reduce uncertainty. Additionally, we suggest that counterfactual information may be particularly alluring because of its role in causal reasoning; its relationship with prediction and decision making; and its potential to fulfil emotion regulation and self-serving goals. Some future directions have been suggested, including investigating the role of individual differences in counterfactual curiosity on learning and wellbeing.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Development
ID Code:106676
Publisher:Royal Society


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