Why It’s Difficult To Change Your Mind

October 3, 2011



Decision reversals often imply improved decisions. Yet, people show a strong resistance against changing their minds. These are well-established findings, which suggest that changed decisions carry a subjective cost, perhaps by being more strongly regretted. Three studies were conducted to explore participants’ regret when making reversible decisions and to test the hypothesis that changing one’s mind will increase post-outcome regret. The first two studies employed the Ultimatum game and the Trust game. The third study used a variant of the Monty Hall problem. All games were conducted by individual participants playing interactively against a computer. The outcomes were designed to capture a common characteristic of real-life decisions: they varied from rather negative to fairly positive, and for every outcome, it was possible to imagine both more and less profitable outcomes. In all experiments, those who changed their minds reported much stronger post-outcome regret than those who did not change, even if the final outcomes were equally good (Experiments 2 and 3) or better (Experiment 1).This finding was not because of individual differences with respect to gender, tendency to regret, or tendency to maximize. Previous studies have found that those who change from a correct to wrong option regret more than those who select a wrong option directly. This study indicates that this finding is a special case of a more general phenomenon: changing one’s mind seems to come with a cost, even when one ends up with favorable outcomes.

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