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The influence of regret on choice theoretical and applied perspectives

Wright, C. A. (2004). The influence of regret on choice theoretical and applied perspectives. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Recent psychological theory and research suggests that emotions can have an important influence on human decision making - the literature supporting this view is reviewed. Two theories in the field which are of particular relevance to this thesis are Decision Justification Theory (Connolly & Zeelenberg, 2002) and Regret Theory (Bell, 1982; Loomes & Sugden, 1982).

Five scenario-based questionnaire studies explore theoretical aspects of regret in decision making which arise from the recently proposed Decision Justification Theory (DJT). The results from these studies suggest that the two hypothesised core components of regret - decision (or self-blame) regret and outcome regret - share similar antecedents in that the nature of the outcome of a choice appears to affect individuals’ perceptions of the quality of the decision process. Thus outcome severity can influence both regret about a bad outcome and regret about making a bad decision. Nonetheless, there was some support for Decision Justification Theory’s proposals - there was some evidence that decision regret was reduced when participants believed the choice was justifiable. Overall, outcome regret tended to be rated as slightly greater than decision regret.

A content analysis of reported biggest regrets derived from a search of UK newspaper articles also found that people mention regrettable outcomes more frequently than they mention regrettable decisions. However, the findings of this newspaper review also indicated that individuals may not distinguish between ‘regret’ and ‘disappointment’ as clearly as researchers and theorists do.

Taking an applied perspective and based on the proposals of Regret Theory, four experiments investigate whether focusing students on the potential for experiencing future regret has any influence on their future choices in relation to sunbathing and computing. The results suggest that participants who had considered how they might feel if their choices turned out badly did change their cognitions and behavioural intentions in the short term, particularly those who anticipated higher levels of regret. In two of the studies, participants also reported changes in their actual behaviour at follow-up. However, one sunbathing study also revealed that changes in behavioural intentions and actual behaviour were reported by participants in a control group who had not focused on their future regret. Thus, whilst a regret-based intervention of this kind does appear to influence the way people think and act in the future, the effects cannot yet be specifically attributed to anticipating regret.

The implications of the research findings for the development of Decision Justification Theory and emotion-based persuasion are discussed. Suggestions for future research in the area are also made.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
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