We all have regrets in our lives. A past love gone wrong. A family argument with someone who has since passed away.
A new study suggests not only do we all have them — but that we share a lot of the same types of regrets about past relationships, family arguments, education and career choices.
Researchers conducted a survey of 370 adult Americans by telephone, asking subjects to describe one regret in detail, including the time in which the regret happened and whether the regret was based on an action or inaction.
“We found that one’s life circumstances, such as accomplishments or shortcomings, inject considerable fuel into the fires of regret,” Neal Roese, lead researcher of the study said. “Although regret is painful, it is an essential component of the human experience.”
Romance led the charge in American regrets, but women significantly led men in this regret, 44 percent compared to 19 percent. Single adults were more likely to have regrets in the romance area, compared to those in a relationship.
While women had more family regrets than men, men had more education regrets than women.
About 34 percent of men reported having work-oriented regrets versus 27 percent of women reporting similar regrets.
The researchers found that people were evenly divided on regrets of situations that they acted on versus those that they did not act on. People who regretted events that they did not act on tended to hold on longer to that regret over time.
Individuals with low levels of education were likely to regret their lack of education. Americans with high levels of education had the most career-related regrets.
“Past research on regrets focused on samples of college students, which made it difficult to glean insights into the wider population,” Roese said. “This research, however, offers a unique and more thorough look into the psychology of regret to further understand how regret connects to life circumstances and its impact on decision making.”
The study will be published in a forthcoming issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Source: Kellogg School of Management