Journal: The Open Psychology Journal
Author(s): Ilaria Castelli, Davide Massaro, Alan G. Sanfey, Antonella Marchetti
Decision making is a complex psychological process driven by emotions. Among the most unpleasant ones are the situations when the obtained outcome is not the one expected. This emotional experience is influenced by sense of agency, i.e. the feeling that we voluntarily control our actions and, through them, events in the world. Negative counterfactual emotions as disappointment have been marginally analyzed in children’s decision-making, and the study of children’s sense of agency could help to understand them.
To evaluate during childhood the valence of disappointment in decision making in relation to the possibility of choosing or not.
107 children (age range 7-10 years) rated their emotions before and after discovering the outcome, in two experimental conditions: choice condition, where the child could decide which of the two remaining tickets to choose in order to win some candies, and no choice condition, where the child could not decide as only one ticket was left.
The self-attribution of a positive emotional state was significantly higher in the choice condition than in the no choice condition, so the possibility to pick up the ticket made children happier in general, by promoting an “illusion of control”, which is absent in the no choice condition. Then, after discovering the bad outcome, the emotions collapse, settling at substantially similar values.
Children have experienced a sense of agency for their choice, thus leading to an illusion of control for the decision process and to the so-called “wishful thinking”.
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