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.
Gilbert, D. T., Morewedge, C. K., Risen, J. L., & Wilson, T. D. (2004). Looking forward to looking backward: The misprediction of regret. Psychological Science, 15(5), 346-350.