B.E. For Dogs: Regret and Counterfactuals

B.E. for Dogs is a bi-weekly comic series that will examine concepts in behavioral economics from the perspective of our canine companions. Look out for new comics every other week!

The series is created by Matt Trower, Catherine Berman, and Jamie Foehl.

Regret and Counterfactuals | Behavioral science

Regret and Counterfactuals: Our happiness depends not just on where we are, but on where we imagine we could have been. In a clever study demonstrating this phenomenon, participants watched videos from the 1992 Olympics right after athletes won a medal. And, without knowing which medal the athletes had won, participants rated how happy they looked. Bronze winners turned out to look much happier than silver winners. Why?

In TV interviews, silver medalists focused on how close they were to receiving a gold medal. But bronze winners were happier; they compared their achievement to fourth place, or not having won a medal at all. Researchers call this tendency regret and counterfactual thinking, when we imagine alternatives to past events.