"But what would have been the good?"
Aslan said nothing.
"You mean," said Lucy rather faintly, "that it would have turned out all right – somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?"
"To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that."
"Oh dear," said Lucy.
"But anyone can find out what will happen," said Aslan. "If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me – what will happen? There is only one way of finding out."
After one makes a decision, it is common to reflect not only on the outcome that was achieved but also on what might have been. For example, one might consider whether going to a party would have been more fun than staying home to work on a manuscript. These counterfactual comparisons can have negative emotional consequences; they can lead to the experience of regret. In the current study, we examined a commonly observed yet understudied aspect of counterfactual comparisons: the motivational lure of counterfactual information—counterfactual curiosity. Specifically, we found that people are so strongly seduced to know counterfactual information that they are willing to incur costs for information about how much they could have won, even if the information is likely to trigger negative emotions (regret) and is noninstrumental to obtaining rewards.
One explanation for seeking negative information is that people may also find it interesting to test their emotional responses—a mechanism that might also underlie so-called morbid curiosity. Counterfactual information of the kind sought in the current experiments may be desirable because it has high personal relevance—it relates to decisions that one has made in the recent past. People’s desire for information about their own performance is known to be strong enough to overcome cognitive biases such as inequality aversion. Thus, opportunities to learn about oneself and the actual and counterfactual consequences of one’s decisions may have powerful motivational status.