People vary widely in the strategies that they adopt for making decisions. One particularly important individual difference in decision making is called maximizing
—the tendency to search exhaustively among options in order to strive for the best possible outcome, no matter how trivial the decision. Maximizers tend to be less satisfied with and more regretful about their decisions, despite the considerable effort they put into making those decisions, and they are also at risk for depression and lower well-being, even when they achieve objectively better outcomes for themselves.
Over the last several years, I have conducted research with student collaborators looking at a variety of questions regarding the causes and consequences of maximizing tendencies. Over a series of studies, we have investigated the hypothesis that one possible cause of maximizing tendencies is the desire to avoid regret in the future, or anticipated regret
. Anticipated regret is the tendency to imagine oneself in the future having made a bad decision that leads to feelings of regret; thus, it is the anticipation of future regrets one might end up feeling about a decision outcome. For example, a high school senior faced with a decision about which college to attend may imagine all of the ways the decision may turn out poorly and may anticipate the regret she may feel if that comes to pass. That anticipation of future regrets may in turn motivate her to exhaustively search out an immense amount of information about each college in an effort to make a perfect decision that will forestall any future regrets. As in this example, anticipated regret seems to be a likely cause of maximizing, especially given that maximizers tend to experience more actual regrets about their completed decisions; maximizers may engage in maximizing behavior in an effort to prevent the pain of future regrets about their choices. We have investigated this hypothesis in several studies in the context of decision making about decisions both small—namely, future purchases—and large—namely, romantic partners. I have also investigated the links between maximizing tendencies and the quality and nature of people’s romantic relationships in several studies, including one with Colgate student participants and another one with a nationally representative sample of adults.
All of the aforementioned projects investigating the causes and consequences of maximizing tendencies require additional work to prepare them for publication. The overarching goal of these summer research positions will be to complete this additional work, toward the end of preparing two papers for publication—one addressing the role of anticipated regret as a potential cause of maximizing, and the other addressing the relationship between anticipated regret and romantic relationships.
The student research assistants will be completing several tasks in order to prepare these two projects for publication:
- Code participant narratives: Participants in several earlier studies wrote brief narratives describing their decision-making processes. Research assistants will code these narratives for the presence of relevant features (e.g., indicators of anticipated regret in the decision-making process).
- Develop an additional online study to investigate anticipated regret in decisions about romantic relationships: In 2018-2019, I completed a study investigating whether anticipated regret shapes decision making in the context of romantic relationships. The results were promising, but some problems with the methods used limited the value of this study. Research assistants will develop a new procedure that addresses these deficiencies and will collect data for this new study using an online paid sample.
- Conduct additional data analysis: All of the projects completed thus far require additional data analysis to prepare them for publication. Research assistants will learn the statistics to be used in these studies and will help complete the analyses.
- Complete a literature review: To write up the results for publication, it will be important to do an updated literature review for the Introduction and Discussion sections of both papers. Students will assist with completing this literature review.