Experiencing regret about a choice helps children learn to delay gratification

McCormack, Teresa; O'Connor, Eimear; Cherry, Jessica; Beck, Sarah R. and Feeney, Aidan (2019). Experiencing regret about a choice helps children learn to delay gratification. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 179 pp. 162–175.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2018.11.005


Children (6- and 7-year-olds) decided whether to wait for a short delay to win a prize or for a longer period to win a different prize. Those who chose to take their prize after a short delay won two candies but were shown that they would have won four candies if they had waited longer. We measured whether children regretted their choice not to wait. The next day, children were faced with the same choice again. Children who regretted choosing the short delay on Day 1 were more likely to delay gratification on Day 2 than children who had not regretted their previous choice. In a second study, we replicated this finding while controlling for intellectual ability and children’s preference for four candies over two candies. This suggests that experiencing regret about a choice not to wait assists children in delaying gratification when faced with the same choice again.

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