Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 46–54 | Cite as

Praise for regret: People value regret above other negative emotions

Original Paper

Abstract

What do people think about the emotion of regret? Recent demonstrations of the psychological benefits of regret have been framed against an assumption that most people find regret to be aversive, both when experienced but also when recalled later. Two studies explored lay evaluations of regret experiences, revealing them to be largely favorable rather than unfavorable. Study 1 demonstrated that regret, but not other negative emotions, was dominated by positive more than negative evaluations. In both studies 1 and 2, although participants saw a great deal of benefit from their negative emotions, regret stood out as particularly beneficial. Indeed, in study 2, regret was seen to be the most beneficial of 12 negative emotions on all five functions of: making sense of past experiences, facilitating approach behaviors, facilitating avoidance behaviors, gaining insights into the self, and in preserving social harmony. Moreover, in study 2, individuals made self-serving ascriptions of regret, reporting greater regret experiences for themselves than for others. In short, people value their regrets substantially more than they do other negative emotions.

Keywords

Regret Counterfactual Affect Emotion 

References

  1. Baumeister, R. F. (1998). The self. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (4th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 680–740). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  2. Bell, D. E. (1982). Regret in decision making under uncertainty. Operations Research, 30, 961–981.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown, J. D. (1986). Evaluations of self and others: Self-enhancement biases in social judgment. Social Cognition, 4, 353–376.Google Scholar
  4. Connolly, T., & Butler, D. (2006). Regret in economic and psychological theories of choice. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19, 139–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Connolly, T., & Zeelenberg, M. (2002). Regret in decision making. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 212–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dunning, D., Heath, C., & Suls, J. (2004). Flawed self-assessment: Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 69–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eaton, J., & Struthers, C. W. (2006). The reduction of psychological aggression across varied interpersonal contexts through repentance and forgiveness. Aggressive Behavior, 32, 195–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eaton, J., Struthers, C. W., & Santelli, A. G. (2006). The mediating role of perceptual validation in the repentance—forgiveness process. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1389–1401.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Epstein, S., Lipson, A., Holstein, C., & Huh, E. (1992). Irrational reactions to negative outcomes: Evidence for two conceptual systems. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 328–339.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Epstude, K., & Roese, N. J. (in press). The functional theory of counterfactual thinking. Personality and Social Psychology Review. Google Scholar
  11. Gilbert, D. T., Morewedge, C. K., Risen, J. L., & Wilson, T. D. (2004). Looking forward to looking backward: The misprediction of regret. Psychological Science, 15, 346–350.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2004). A survey method for characterizing daily life experience: The day reconstruction method (DRM). Science, 306, 1776–1780.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kahneman, D., & Miller, D. T. (1986). Norm theory: Comparing reality to its alternatives. Psychological Review, 93, 136–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. King, L. A., & Hicks, J. A. (2006). Narrating the self in the past and the future: Implications for maturity. Research in Human Development, 3, 121–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. King, L. A., & Hicks, J. A. (2007). Whatever happened to “what might have been?” Regrets, happiness, and maturity. American Psychologist., 62, 625–636.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kruger, J. (1999). Lake Wobegon be gone! The “below-average effect” and the egocentric nature of comparative ability judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 221–232.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Landman, J. (1993). Regret: The persistence of the possible. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Lecci, L., Okun, M. A., & Karoly, P. (1994). Life regrets and current goals as predictors of psychological adjustment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 731–741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Markman, K. D., McMullen, M. N., & Elizaga, R. A. (2008). Counterfactual thinking, persistence, and performance: A test of the reflection and evaluation model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 421–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Markman, K. D., & Weary, G. (1998). Control motivation, depression, and counterfactual thought. In M. Kofta, G. Weary, & G. Sedak (Eds.), Personal control in action: Cognitive and motivational mechanisms (pp. 363–390). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  21. McFarland, C., & Miller, D. T. (1990). Judgments of self-other similarity: Just like other people, only more so. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, 475–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mitchell, T. R., Thompson, L., Peterson, E., & Cronk, R. (1997). Temporal adjustments in the evaluation of events: The “Rosy View.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 421–448.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Monroe, M. R., Skowronski, J. J., MacDonald, W., & Wood, S. E. (2005). The mildly depressed experience more post-decisional regret than the non-depressed. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24, 665–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Niedenthal, P. M., Tangney, J. P., & Gavanski, I. (1994). “If only I weren’t” versus “If only I hadn’t”: Distinguishing shame and guilt in counterfactual thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 585–595.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ortony, A., Clore, G. L., & Collins, A. (1988). The cognitive structure of emotions. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Roese, N. J. (1994). The functional basis of counterfactual thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 805–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Roese, N. J. (1997). Counterfactual thinking. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 133–148.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Roese, N. J., & Olson, J. M. (2007). Better, stronger, faster: Self-serving judgment, affect regulation, and the optimal vigilance hypothesis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 124–141.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Roese, N. J., & Summerville, A. (2005). What we regret most ... and why. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1273–1285.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161–1178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Russell, J. A. (2003). Core affect and the psychological construal of emotion. Psychological Review, 110, 145–172.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sabini, J., & Silver, M. (2005). Why emotion names and experiences don’t neatly pair. Psychological Inquiry, 16, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Saffrey, C., & Ehrenberg, M. E. (2007). When thinking hurts: Attachment, rumination, and post-relationship adjustment. Personal Relationships, 14, 351–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schimmack, U. (2003). Affective measurement in experience sampling research. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 79–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schwartz, B., Ward, A., Monterosso, J., Lyubormirsky, S., White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Maximizing versus satisficing: Happiness is a matter of choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1178–1197.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Scollon, C. N., Kim-Prieto, C., & Diener, E. (2003). Experience sampling: Promises and pitfalls, strengths and weaknesses. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 5–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shaver, P., Schwartz, J., Kirson, D., & O’Connor, C. (1987). Emotion knowledge: Further exploration of a prototype approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 1061–1086.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shimanoff, S. B. (1984). Commonly named emotions in everyday conversations. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 58, 514.Google Scholar
  39. Smith, C. A., & Ellsworth, P. C. (1985). Patterns of cognitive appraisal in emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 813–838.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193–210.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tellegen, A., Watson, D., & Clark, L. A. (1999). On the dimensional and hierarchical structure of affect. Psychological Science, 10, 297–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Van Boven, L., & Ashworth, L. (2007). Looking forward, looking back: Anticipation is more evocative than ‘retrospection. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 289–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Van Dijk, W. W., & Zeelenberg, M. (2002). Investigating the appraisal patterns of regret and disappointment. Motivation and Cognition, 26, 321–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Van Dijk, E., & Zeelenberg, M. (2007). When curiousity killed regret: Avoiding or seeking the unknown in decision-making under uncertainty. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 656–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wierzbicka, A. (1992). Defining emotion concepts. Cognitive Science, 16, 539–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2003). Affective forecasting. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 35, pp. 345–411). New York: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wilson, T. D., Meyers, J., & Gilbert, D. T. (2003). “How happy was I, anyway?”: A retrospective impact bias. Social Cognition, 21, 407–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zeelenberg, M. (1999). The use of crying over spilled milk: A note on the rationality and functionality of regret. Philosophical Psychology, 12, 325–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zeelenberg, M., Beattie, J., van der Pligt, J, & de Vries, N. (1996). Consequences of regret aversion: Effects of expected feedback on risky decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 65, 148–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Zeelenberg, M., Inman, J. J., & Pieters, R. G. M. (2001). What do we do when decisions go awry: Behavioral consequences of experienced regret. In J. Baron, G. Loomes, & E. Weber (Eds.), Conflict and tradeoffs in decision making (pp. 136–155). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Zeelenberg, M., & Pieters, R. (2007). A theory of regret regulation 1.0. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 17, 3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zeelenberg, M., van Dijk, W. W., van der Pligt, J., Manstead, A. S. R., van Empelen, P., & Reinderman, D. (1998). Emotional reactions to outcomes of decisions: The role of counterfactual thinking in the experience of regret and disappointment. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 75, 117–141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colleen Saffrey
    • 1
  • Amy Summerville
    • 2
  • Neal J. Roese
    • 2
  1. 1.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

Personalised recommendations