The Temporal Pattern to the Experience of Regret

Thomas Gilovich*, Victoria Husted Medvec

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

268 Scopus citations


Through telephone surveys, written questionnaires, and face-to-face interviews, it was found that people's biggest regrets tend to involve things they have failed to do in their lives. This conflicts with research on counterfactual thinking that indicates that people regret unfortunate outcomes that stem from actions taken more than identical outcomes that result from actions foregone. These divergent findings were reconciled by demonstrating that people's regrets follow a systematic time course: Actions cause more pain in the short-term, but inactions are regretted more in the long run. Support for this contention was obtained in 2 scenario experiments that assessed people's beliefs about the short- and long-term regrets of others and in an experiment that asked Ss about their own regrets of action and inaction from 2 time periods. Several mechanisms that can account for this temporal pattern are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-365
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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