Remembering and regretting: The Zeigarnik effect and the cognitive availability of regrettable actions and inactions

Kenneth Savitsky, Victoria Husted Medvec, Thomas Gilovich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations

Abstract

Regrets appear to follow a systematic temporal pattern: Regrettable commissions loom larger in the short term, whereas regrettable omissions are more prominent in the long run. This research examines whether this pattern can be attributed in part to the Zeigarnik effect, or peoples' tendency to remember incompleted tasks better than completed tasks. Does Zeigarnik-like rumination over regrettable failures to act make them easier to recall, and thus more available as sources of regret? A survey found that people think about their biggest regrets of inaction more frequently than their biggest regrets of action. In two additional studies, participants listed their three biggest regrets of action and three biggest regrets of inaction, and then attempted to recall them several weeks later. As anticipated, participants remembered more of their regrettable omissions than their regrettable commissions, an effect that was maintained when the severity of the regrets was controlled statistically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)248-257
Number of pages10
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Volume23
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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