Date: October 21, 2020 03:00pm -4:30pm

Location: online

Title: How Regret Works

Speaker: Keith Markman


Regret is a counterfactual emotion – elicited by an upward counterfactual comparison between one’s present state of reality and an imagined better state of reality – that is differentiated from other comparison-based emotions such as disappointment by a strong component of self-blame. Some well-known effects have been established in the regret literature. For instance, Kahneman and Miller (1986) provided evidence for the “action effect” in regret – the notion that regrets of action are felt more intensely than regrets of inaction – and Gilovich and Medvec (1995; see also Kahneman, 1995) demonstrated that while regrets of action are regretted more in the short-term (i.e., “hot regrets”), regrets of inaction (i.e., people’s greatest life regrets) are regretted over the long-term (i.e., “wistful regrets”). In my talk, I will discuss the results of studies that demonstrate how these effects are substantially moderated by two important variables: the potential repeatability of an outcome – often referred to as “perceived opportunity” – and the psychological closure that one feels they have obtained about an outcome (i.e., the feeling that one has moved “past” an outcome such that the affect surrounding the outcome has faded). One set of studies will suggest that the action effect in regret can be diminished or even reversed by outcome repeatability, and a second set of studies will indicate how focusing on lost opportunities elicits more regret for those who have not achieved closure, whereas focusing on future opportunities elicits more regret for those who have obtained closure. Discussion will focus on whether people are especially likely to capitalize on future opportunities to take corrective action when they have obtained closure.


After growing up on Long Island just outside of New York City, I received my B.A. in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1989. Continuing my tour of the American Midwest, I completed my Ph.D. in social psychology at Indiana University in 1994 working with Igor Gavanski, Jim Sherman, and Ed Hirt, and followed that with a post-doctoral fellowship at the Ohio State University during which I worked with Gifford Weary and Philip Tetlock. I have been at Ohio University (in Athens, OH) since 2001 and am an Associate Professor. My research interests include mental simulation (e.g., counterfactual thinking, regret, prospection) psychological momentum, nostalgia, creativity, and misinformation effects (e.g., conspiracy theories, fake news).