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  • Is it true that individuals often regret recent actions (i.e., last few months) but when they look back on their lives, they tend to regret things that they have not done (or lack of actions) ?
  • If so, what causes this?
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(Technically, I don't think the title says what you want to express. You probably mean they regret actions they didn't take. If the decision is about doing something or not doing something, then that's a dicision they necessarily have to make. If on the other hand, there is a decision between two things and they didn't choose either, then they don't regret the decision but they regret not making one. That is, the decission is not the subject of regret, but the action not to make it. (v2)) – NikolajK Oct 16 '12 at 9:08
@NickKidman Yes, I had some trouble expressing it, anyway, I think actions is more accurate, so I will edit the question. Thanks – mux Oct 16 '12 at 11:41
I guess the referent (now just being actions istead of decision) is still not correct, but anyway, i think people will understand it. ;) – NikolajK Oct 16 '12 at 11:59
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The classic reference for exactly what you are describing is Gilovich & Medvec, 1995 (LINK), the primary thesis of which is that "Actions, or errors of commission, generate more regret in the short term; but inactions, or errors of omission, produce more regret in the long run" (from the abstract). The authors explain that there are many factors that contribute to this general pattern; these factors are actually summarized quite nicely in their Table 3 below: Regret table

For a more complete description of these factors and a discussion of the relevant evidence, see the link I posted above to the Gilovich & Medvec paper.


  • Gilovich, T. & Medvec, V.H. (1995). The experience of regret: what, when, and why. Psychological review, 102, 379. PDF
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