Children's understanding of counterfactual emotions age differences, individual differences, and the effects of counterfactual-information salience

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jennifer Marie Ferrell (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Robert Guttentag

Abstract: "The purpose of the present study was to further investigate age differences in children's understanding how counterfactual reasoning affects emotions. More specifically, the study was designed to study the effect of the salience of the counterfactual alternative on judgments of others' emotions, and to examine possible correlates of individual differences in the understanding of counterfactual-reasoning-based emotions. The individual differences that were measured were verbal ability, information processing capacity, and perspective taking ability. Thirty 6-year-olds, 36 7-year-olds, 36 8-year-olds, and 34 adults were each presented 4 scenarios. Each story involved two characters who experienced the same negative outcome; one character, however, would have avoided the outcome if he had made a different decision, whereas the other character would not have been able to avoid that outcome even if he had made the alternate decision. For half of the participants, the stories were written in such a way that it was made very salient that the characters reflected on "what might have been" if they had made the alternate decision about what to do; that information was less salient in the stories presented to the remaining participants. The participants also completed the measures of individual differences in processing capacity, verbal ability, and perspective taking ability. Overall, adults stated that the character who could have avoided the negative outcome would feel worse about his or her choice than would the other character, but the majority of the children stated that the two characters would feel the same. When the characters' thoughts were explicitly stated (high salience stories), however, 8-year-olds showed a response pattern closer to that of the adults than they did with the lower salience stories. The analyses of individual differences revealed that, after age was taken into account, perspective taking (as measured by a test of second-order theory of mind ability) was the only measure of individual difference that remained a significant predictor of counterfactual emotion understanding. The importance of different social cognitive abilities for understanding people's affective responses to thinking about alternatives is discussed."--Abstract from author supplied metadata.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2005
children, understanding, counterfactual reasoning, emotions
Attribution (Social psychology) in children
Emotions in children

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