Dan Gilbert : Looking Forward to Looking Backward The Misprediction of Regret
Must Read Excerpt (Via Gilber, Morewedge, Risen, & Wilson)
“Research suggests that people routinely overestimate the emotional impact of negative events ranging from professional failures and romantic breakups to electoral losses, sports defeats, and medical setbacks One of the reasons for this is that people do not realize how readily they will rationalize negative outcomes once they occur.”
ABSTRACT (Via Gilbert, Morewedge, Risen, & Wilson )
Decisions are powerfully affected by anticipated regret, and people anticipate feeling more regret when they lose by a narrow margin than when they lose by a wide margin. But research suggests that people are remarkably good at avoiding self-blame, and hence they may be better at avoiding regret than they realize. Four studies measured people’s anticipations and experiences of regret and self-blame. In Study 1, students overestimated how much more regret they would feel when they ‘‘nearly won’’ than when they ‘‘clearly lost’’ a contest. In Studies 2, 3a, and 3b, subway riders overestimated how much more regret and self-blame they would feel if they ‘‘nearly caught’’ their trains than if they ‘‘clearly missed’’ their trains. These results suggest that people are less susceptible to regret than they imagine, and that decision makers who pay to avoid future regrets may be buying emotional insurance that they do not actually need.
Introduction (Via Gilbert, Morewedge, Risen, & Wilson)
Most of us have been on that runway at one time or another, and, like Ilsa, most of us have boarded the plane. Our most consequential choices—whether to marry, have children, buy a house, enter a profession, or move abroad—are so often made out of fear of regret that students of decision making have focused more attention on this particular combination of disappointment and self-blame than on all other emotions combined (Bell, 1982; Landman, 1993; Loomes & Sugden, 1982; Zeelenberg, van Dijk, Manstead, & van der Pligt, 1998). Research has demonstrated the pervasive impact of anticipated regret on people’s decisions, and has identified some of the circumstances under which people expect to feel especially regretful. For example, people expect to feel more regret when they act foolishly than when they fail to act wisely (Gilovich & Medvec, 1995), when they learn about alternatives to their bad choices than when they do not (Ritov & Baron, 1995, 1996; Zeelenberg, 1999a), when they accept bad advice than when they reject good advice (Crawford, McConnell, Lewis, & Sherman, 2002), when their bad choices are unusual rather than conventional (Simonson, 1992), and when they fail by a narrow margin rather than by a wide margin (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982; Medvec, Madey, & Gilovich, 1995).
Findings (Via Gilbert, Morewedge, Risen, & Wilson)
Regret can be a bit of a boogeyman, looming larger in prospect than it actually stands in experience. In our studies, people mistakenly expected a narrow margin of loss to exacerbate their feelings of regret because they did not realize how readily they would absolve themselves of responsibility for their disappointing outcomes. We do not mean to suggest that margins of loss can never influence the experience of regret. Indeed, Medvec et al. (1995) studied the facial expressions of Olympic athletes and found that bronze medalists (who missed a gold medal by a wide margin) appeared happier than silver medalists (who missed a gold medal by a narrow margin). That study suggests that margins of loss can have an impact on emotional experience, and our studies merely suggest that however powerful that impact is, it is not as powerful as people anticipate. One of the reasons for this is that people are less likely than they realize to blame themselves for their negative outcomes.
Favorite Findings (Via Gilber, Morewedge, Risen, & Wilson)
The irony is that these people may be forgoing profits in order to avoid regrets they would never actually experience. The anticipation of regret can cause people to overpay for consumer goods (Simonson, 1992), to negotiate ineffectively (Larrick & Boles, 1995), and to overvalue the ability to change their minds (Gilbert & Ebert, 2002). Clearly, people pay a steep price to avoid future regrets, and our studies suggest that they may be purchasing emotional insurance that they do not really need. Ilsa could not face the possibility of looking back in anguish and so reluctantly boarded the plane, but had she stayed with Rick in Casablanca, she would probably have felt just fine. Not right away, of course. But soon. And for the rest of her life.