The impact of past behaviour normality on regret: replication and extension of three experiments of the exceptionality effect

Cognition and Emotion 33 (5):901-914 (2019)
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Norm theory (Kahneman & Miller, 1986) described a tendency for people to associate stronger regret with a negative outcome when it is a result of an exception (abnormal behavior) compared to when it is a result of routine (normal behavior). In two pre-registered studies, we conducted a replication and extension of three classic experiments on past behavior exception/routine contrasts (N = 684). We successfully replicated Kahneman and Miller’s (1986) experiments with the classic hitchhiker-scenario (Part 1) and car accident-scenario (Part 2). In both cases, participants examined negative outcomes and tended to indicate a protagonist who deviated from own past behavior as more regretful than another who followed routine. Pre-registered extensions also showed effects for ratings of social norms, negative affect, and perceived luck. We did not find support for the Miller and McFarland (1986) experiment robbery scenario (Part 3) using a compensation measure, in that compensation to a victim of a robbery was not significantly different comparing exceptional and routine circumstances. However, a pre-registered extension showed that robbery under exceptional circumstances was regretted more than robbery under routine circumstances. We discuss implications for current and future research.


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