Conference Paper

The near miss effect: Counterfactual thinking or disconfirmation of expectancies?

Conference: KogWis, Volume: 10


Everyday experience tells us that near misses—the near-occurrence of a desired or undesired
outcome—elicit more intense emotions than far misses. A prominent explanation of this
phenomenon assumes that the near miss effect is due to counterfactual thinking (e.g.
Kahneman & Miller, 1986). According to this explanation, (a) counterfactual thoughts have
an amplifying effect on emotions and (b) the likelihood of such thoughts increases with the
perceived (spatio-temporal or semantic) proximity of the actual to the missed outcome. For
example, if five of the six digits of the winning lottery number agree with one’s own number,
it is easy to imagine that the sixth number could have been drawn as well, and this
counterfactual thought intensifies the feeling of disappointment. Hence, the near miss effect is
caused by retrospective comparisons between actual and missed outcomes. In contrast, the
belief-desire theory of emotion (e. g. Reisenzein, 2009) assumes that, at least as concerns the
emotions of disappointment and relief, the near miss effect is mediated by higher expectations
of wins and losses. These two explanations of the near miss effect (counterfactual thinking
versus expectancy disconfirmation) were experimentally compared using lotteries involving
wins and losses. In a previous study (Junge & Reisenzein, 2010), the predictions of BDTE
were largely confirmed, but we also found a small effect of proximity on the intensity of
experienced disappointment and relief. To clarify this finding, we conducted a follow-up
experiment using an improved design that allows a more fine-grained comparison of the two
theories. Results of this study will be presented at the conference.

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