Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Anticipatory regret and motivation

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Anticipatory regret and motivation:
What is the motivational role of anticipatory regret?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Woman displaying the negative experience of regret.

People demonstrate the capacity to experience regret from as early as five years old (Weisberg & Beck, 2010). Regret is a negative emotion which is experienced when we believe the current situation could have been improved, had the chosen action been replaced with an alternate one (Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007). Regret is experienced after a behaviour or decision has occurred. However, regret can influence our cognitive process at the time of making a decision, this is called anticipatory regret. Anticipatory regret occurs when the decision maker imagines that a pending choice may cause an unsatisfactory outcome that will lead them to regretting that choice (Gavanski & Wells, 1989).

The negative experience of regret is associated with an unpleasant feeling, sense of self-blame, and the desire to change the chosen outcome (see figure 1 for a depiction of someone displaying regret) (Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007). Regret theories, such as Zeelenberg and Pieters' (2007) theory of regret regulation, suggest that humans are wired to avoid the unpleasant experience of regret. Anticipation of regret, therefore, is seen as a powerful motivational force that influences our decisions.

Example of the power of anticipatory regret:

In a study by Wolfson and Briggs (2002), regular lottery participants in the national lottery in England (held Saturdays) were asked a range of questions including if they felt compelled or not (and to what extent the compulsion related to a feeling of anticipatory regret) to buy a ticket in a new Wednesday draw. Despite answering that they were not looking forward to the Wednesday draw and did not expect a big win, 38% of participants intended to play the Wednesday game because they did not want to miss out on a possible win. Of those participants intending to play, 80% reported using all or mostly the same numbers each week and that their motivation to play each game (including the new one) was motivated by a sense of despair and regret they imagined they would feel if their regular numbers were drawn and they hadn't bought a ticket.

Decision and regret theories help us better understand the effect of anticipatory regret on behaviours such as gambling and consumerism, and can be harnessed to promote positive outcomes in health and goal directed activities such as sport.

Focus questions
  1. What is anticipatory regret?
  2. Which psychological theories help to understand anticipatory regret?
  3. How does anticipatory regret motivate behaviour?
  4. How can anticipated regret be applied to promote positive outcomes?

What is anticipatory regret?[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Person experiencing anticipatory regret during the process of choosing between eating a burger or an apple.

Regret is a negative emotion that is experienced universally across gender, race, culture, nationality, religion, language, social status, age (from the point you develop the capacity), and geographical location (Cadish, 2001, as cited in Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007). It has been rated as the most intense and the second most frequently occurring emotion (Saffrey & Roese, 2006, as cited in Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007). Regret is associated with a type of thinking referred to as counterfactual thinking. It is counterfactual because the person imagines alternate outcomes to the actual outcome that did occur. These imagined outcomes are based on perceptions of alternate decisions they could have been made instead of the one that led to the regretted outcome (Bailey & Kinerson, 2005). Anticipated regret is often generated from experiences of regret that a person has learned from and is trying to avoid experiencing again (Bailey & Kinerson, 2005). For example, see figure 2 where the person has previously chosen to eat a burger and felt regret after being too full and bloated, so is anticipating regretting the choice of the burger (option B) in their current decision. Anticipatory regret can also be generated in novel situations, where the person is able to imagine what they think the outcome may be (Baumeister et al., 2007).

Simply put, anticipatory regret is a prediction that a decision or action about to be undertaken will cause regret (Gavanski & Wells, 1989).

Which psychological theories help to understand anticipatory regret?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Expected utility theory[edit | edit source]

Expected utility (EU) theory attempts to explain and guide choice by calculating the most valuable course of action for a decision maker. This is done by multiplying the value of each potential outcome (in terms of value to the decision maker) by the estimated probability of its occurrence. The sum of that equation indicates the EU value for each potential course of action/option. It therefore offers guidance about how to select a course of action with the greatest benefit for the individual and their circumstance (Sebora & Cornwell, 1995). Regret is said to factor into this theory when determining the value of each potential outcome for the individual, as both negative and positive elements of the outcome determine the value (Zeelenberg, 1999). This theory assumes a very rational approach to decision making which does not consider personal factors, emotions and cognitive limitations that human beings are susceptible to. It therefore fails to encapsulate the complicated relationship that regret, including anticipatory regret has on our decision making process (Sebora & Cornwell, 1995).

Prospect theory[edit | edit source]

The authors of prospect theory, Kahneman and Tversky's (1979) attempt to account for some of the limitations of EU theory by exploring the impacts that emotion and cognitive biases have on decision making. The premise of this theory was formed on the findings that people tend to assess loss and gain unequally. [grammar?] Meaning, that the same offer with the same outcome is assessed differently when it is proposed in terms of loss than when it is proposed in terms of gain. This can be seen in the case study below where Charlie chooses to be given 30 marbles and avoid the experience of losing half of the marbles, even though the outcome is the same either way.

Case study - example of prospect theory

Charlie is offered a choice between being given 30 marbles that he can keep or being given 60 marbles that he then has to return 30 of and can keep the remaining 30. Charlie chooses to be given 30 marbles as he does not want to experience the loss of the other 30 marbles.

Prospect theory is also known as loss aversion theory because the assumption behind the difference in people's assessment of gain versus loss is that humans are motivated to avoid loss because the negative experience of losing is suggested to be more powerful than the joy experienced when winning (Tversky & Kahneman, 1992). This theory helps us begin to understand how anticipatory regret can motivate behaviour by directing the decisions we make where we predict that certain choices could lead to a regrettable loss. However, this theory does not consider other important factors in the decision making process outside of loss and gain.

Regret regulation theory[edit | edit source]

Zeelenberg and Pieters (2007) designed a theory of regret regulation based on 25 years of regret research in the fields of economics and psychology. Their theoretical model consists of ten key propositionsː

  1. Regret is an aversive, cognitive emotion that people are motivated to regulate in order to maximise outcomes in the short term and learn maximising them in the long run.
  2. Regret is a comparison-based emotion of self-blame, experienced when people realise or imagine that their present situation would have been better had they decided differently in the past.
  3. Regret is distinct from related other specific emotions such as anger, disappointment, envy, guilt, sadness and shame, and from general negative affect on the basis of its appraisals, experiential content and behavioural consequences.
  4. Individual differences in the tendency to experience regret are reliably related to the tendency to maximise and compare one's outcomes.
  5. Regret can be experienced about past (retrospective regret) and future (anticipated or prospective regret) decisions.
  6. Anticipated regret is experienced when decisions are difficult and important and when the decision maker expects to learn the outcomes of both the chosen and rejected options quickly.
  7. Regret can stem from decisions to act and from decisions not to actː The more justifiable the decision, the less regret.
  8. Regret can be experienced about decision processes (process regret) and decision outcomes (outcome regret).
  9. Regret aversion is distinct from risk aversion, and they jointly and independently influence behavioural decisions.
  10. Regret regulation strategies are decision-, alternative-, or feeling-focused, and implemented based on their accessibility and their instrumentality to the current overarching goal.

This theory sees the main purpose of emotions as a guiding force for human behaviour. Unlike prospect theory which focuses on loss specifically, regret regulation theory acknowledges the importance of all conscious emotion in decision making, but particularly the effects of regret. Its authors believe that people learn to anticipate emotional outcomes and select behaviour that aims to pursue the emotions they prefer and avoid those they do not. Zeelenberg and Pieters (2007) emphasise a human tendency to regret, citing the works of Carmon et al. (2003) who found that regret is evident immediately after the act of choosing, before receiving feedback about the outcome of a decision. Regret regulation theory sees regret as both an adaptive and maladaptive emotion. It is seen to be maladaptive in that it causes emotional distress due to the negative feelings associated with it, and can lead to unhelpful rumination (Jokisaari, 2003, as cited in Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007). Ultimately though, it is seen as an adaptive emotion that leads to more careful, better quality decision making, whether it is experienced retrospectively or anticipated (Reb, 2007).

Neuro-psychological theory[edit | edit source]

Regret is a complex emotion that involves higher-order cognitive processing because it is heavily reliant on reasoning and comparison processes (Baumeister et al., 2007). A study by Sirigu et al. (2005) used functional magnetic resonance imaging to determine the brain structures involved in the experience of regret. They found that when participants were primed to experience or anticipate regret, there was significant activity in both the amygdala and medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). They propose that the cumulative experience of regret (and therefore activation of these brain structures) provide an updated weighting of the emotional advantages/disadvantages of the current choices before us, which leads to a biasing to forgo choices that may lead to the experience of regret. Simply put, the main structures involved in anticipatory regret are the amygdala and the OFC, and neuro-psychologists support the premise that we are programmed to avoid regret and also propose that our drive to avoid regret can be strengthened by an accumulation of experienced regret (Sirigu et al., 2005).

Quick quiz[edit | edit source]

1. Which of the following does not apply to anticipatory regret

Influences decisions
Motivates behaviour
Makes you feel cognitively advanced
Is a universal emotion

2. Prospect theory is also known as loss aversion theory.


3. Which theory assumes that people are rational decision makers?

Prospect theory
Expected utility theory
Neuro-psychological theory
Regret regulation theory

How does anticipatory regret motivate behaviour?[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Demonstration of regretted experience influencing later behaviour via anticipatory regret.

Regardless of the theory you choose to apply, regret is seen as a powerful motivator of our chosen behaviour. Prospect and expected utility theories, while not specifically focusing on regret, support the influence of regret on our behaviour in relation to avoiding loss and avoiding the selection of a less desirable option (which can coincide with and/or cause regret) (Sebora & Cornwall, 1995). According to both regret regulation theory, and neuro-psychological theories, we are programmed and therefore, highly motivated to avoid the negative experience of regret. Therefore, anticipation of regret motivates behaviour by influencing the decisions we make. Where regret is predicted to result from one decision over another, we are motivated to select the behaviour that will best avoid the experience of regret (Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007). As well as motivating avoidance of certain outcomes, regret and the anticipation of it, has been shown to encourage more vigilant decision making by motivating a desire to discover more options, to research those options more thoroughly, and to make more careful comparisons between options (Reb, 2007).

Bailey and Kinerson, (2005) found that anticipatory regret often occurs in response to an actual experience of regret that the person has learned from. Baumeister et al. (2007) consider this an instructive feedback system, where a previous experience triggers an emotion which then motivates a change in future behaviour. Figure 3 demonstrates this process with an example of someone who has stepped in dog poo when they walked on grass. The person experienced an unpleasant emotional response which triggered the presence of anticipatory regret when they were next deciding where to walk. The anticipatory regret then motivates the person to avoid walking on the grass, as well as to consider more options and think more carefully about the outcomes of those options before deciding.

How can anticipated regret be applied to promote positive outcomes?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Health[edit | edit source]

Anticipatory regret can be used to promote positive health behaviours such as screening for cancers or diseases, using protection during sex, and adhering to vaccination recommendations (Baumeister et al., 2007). A meta-analysis by Conner et al. (2015) measured the effects of anticipatory regret on a range of health behaviours including exercise, cancer screening, condom use and more. They found that across the studied health behaviours, anticipated regret significantly predicted whether or not people engaged in health promoting behaviours. More specifically, Zajak et al. (2017) conducted a study exploring the relationship between anticipatory regret and colorectal cancer (CRC) screening uptake. Participants were offered free screening for CRC and surveyed about their intentions to participate in that screening exercise as well as future CRC screening. They were also questioned about their experience of anticipatory regret around their decision. They found that anticipatory regret was a significant predictor of intention to participate in screening behaviours, such that people who scored high in anticipatory regret (i.e., they would regret not being screened and then finding out they had CRC) were seven times more likely to engage in screening behaviours than those who scored low in anticipatory regret.

Another example is a study by Leask et al. (2006) that found anticipatory regret to be a significant factor in countering anti-vaccination messaging. In light of this, they recommended that information about the effects of vaccine-preventable diseases be made available to the public to invoke anticipatory regret and therefore motivate more careful and informed decision making around vaccination. See chapter 17 (Covid-19 vaccine motivation) for more information on motivational factors of vaccine decisions. These are just a few examples of health behaviours that have been shown to be influenced by anticipatory regret, others include smoking, alcohol and drug use, eating and weight management, and more (Brewer et al., 2016).

Spending and gambling[edit | edit source]

Financial decisions are often influenced by anticipatory regret, especially in relation to gambling and purchase timing (Keller et al., 2020; Wolfson & Briggs, 2002). Simonson (1992) investigated the effects of anticipatory regret on purchase timing and brand choice. Simonson primed participants to anticipate regret by asking how they would feel if they later found out they had made the wrong decision in regards to price or brand. Simonson showed that people could be motivated to buy more expensive brand named items over cheaper alternatives and to purchase now at the current price over waiting for a later date and potential sale. The understanding we gain from decision and regret theories help enlighten and forewarn the consumer about these kinds of marketing strategies and therefore promote positive outcomes where the consumer can avoid manipulation and make the best decisions for their circumstances.

Gambling can be heavily motivated by anticipatory regret (Wolfson & Briggs, 2002). A study by Wu et al. (2021) provides further support for the influence of anticipatory regret in gambling. They studied participants with gambling disorder (GD) compared with a control group without the disorder. They found that participants with GD had a significantly greater sensitivity to anticipatory regret than those without GD. In response to their findings, they recommend the use of anticipatory regret in public messaging and prevention programs that invoke regret related to making the gamble, rather than not making it.

Goal direction[edit | edit source]

Anticipatory regret has been applied to goal directed behaviours such as exercising, dieting and sporting (Baumeister et al., 2007). A study by Bagozzi et al. (1998) showed that priming participants with exercise and dieting goals, to anticipate their emotional response if they did not reach their goal, motivated them to work harder towards that goal and therefore achieve it (Bagozzi et al., 1998, as cited in Baumeister et al., 2007). Turman (2005) studied a range of messages delivered from coaches to their sportsmen/women and discovered that many of them used anticipatory regret. For example, coaches before and during the activity, explained what a losing scenario would look and feel like to their sportsmen/women if they did not perform well. While this study did not follow the results of the messaging, regret theory would lead to a reasonable belief that these types of messages would motivate increased performance (Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter described anticipatory regret as a negative emotional experience that occurs when the decision maker imagines that a pending choice may have an unsatisfactory outcome that will lead them to regretting that choice (Gavanski & Wells, 1989). It then outlined some of the key decision and regret theories (expected utility, prospect, regret regulation, and neurological theories) and how they help us understand anticipatory regret.

Expected utility theory, a key theory in decision research, assumes that people are rational decision makers and therefore, fails to acknowledge and explain the role of emotional influences such as anticipatory regret (Sebora & Cornwell,1995). Prospect theory acknowledges the important influence of emotion in decision making but has a specific focus on feelings of loss and gain, so does not explore the significance of regret and its anticipation in any depth (Tversky & Kahneman, 1992). Regret regulation theory sees regret and its anticipation as a significant factor in decision making. It'=s authors, Zeelenberg and Pieters (2007) believe that humans are programmed to pursue the emotions they prefer and avoid those they do not, (particularly regret).

Neuro-psychological research indicates that the brain structures involved in anticipatory regret are the amygdala and the OFC. It also provides support for the idea that we are programmed to avoid regret (Sirigu et al., 2005). Next, this chapter answered how anticipatory regret motivates behaviour by drawing on key decision and regret theories. It named two main ways in which anticipatory regret motivates our behaviour. First, by selecting behaviour that will best avoid the experience of regret (Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007). Second, by encouraging more vigilant decision making (Reb, 2007).

Finally, the chapter explored how anticipatory regret can be applied to promote positive outcomes by reviewing some areas in which anticipatory regret has been found to influence behaviour. It covered examples in health, spending, gambling, and goal directed behaviours. All of which provide evidence for the fact that anticipatory regret is a powerful motivational force that influences the decisions we make, and therefore the behaviours we enact[grammar?].

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bailey, J. J., & Kinerson, C. (2005). Regret Avoidance and Risk Tolerance. Journal of Financial Counseling & Planning, 16(1), 23–28.

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., DeWall, C. N., & Zhang, L. (2007). How Emotion Shapes Behavior: Feedback, Anticipation, and Reflection, Rather Than Direct Causation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(2), 167–203.

Brewer, N. T., DeFrank, J. T., & Gilkey, M. B. (2016). Anticipated regret and health behavior: A meta-analysis. 'Health Psychology, 35(11), 1264–1275.

Conner, M., McEachan, R., Taylor, N., O’Hara, J., & Lawton, R. (2015). Role of Affective Attitudes and Anticipated Affective Reactions in Predicting Health Behaviors. Health Psychology, 34(6), 642–652.

Gavanski, I., & Wells, G. L. (1989). Counterfactual processing of normal and exceptional events. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 314-325.

Keller, P. A., Hesselton, K., & Volpp, K. G. (2020). Increasing recruitment and engagement with time-limited financial incentives. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 5(3), 259–270.

Leask, J., Chapman, S., Hawe, P., & Burgess, M. (2006). What maintains parental support for vaccination when challenged by anti-vaccination messages? A qualitative study. Vaccine, 24(49), 7238–7245.

Reb, J. (2008). Regret aversion and decision process quality: Effects of regret salience on decision process carefulness. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 105(2), 169–182.

Sebora, T. C., & Cornwall, J. R. (1995). Expected Utility Theory Vs. Prospect Theory: Implications For Strategic Decision Makers. Journal of Managerial Issues, 7(1), 41–61.

Simonson, I. (1992). The influence of anticipating regret and responsibility on purchase decisions. Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 105-118.

Sirigu, A., Dolan, R. J., Coricelli, G., Critchley, H. D., Joffily, M., & O’Doherty, J. P. (2005). Regret and its avoidance: a neuroimaging study of choice behavior. Nature Neuroscience, 8(9), 1255–1262.

Turman, P. D. (2005). Coaches’ Use of anticipatory and counterfactual regret messages during competition. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 33(2), 116–138.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1992). Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 5(4), 297–323.

Wolfson, S., & Briggs, P.(2002). Locked into gambling: Anticipatory regret as a motivator for playing the national lottery. J Gambl Stud, 18, 1–17.

Wu, Y., Kennedy, D., Goshko, C.-B., & Clark, L. (2021). “Should’ve known better”: Counterfactual processing in disordered gambling. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106622–106622.

Zajac, I. T., Duncan, A., Freegard, S., Wilson, C., Flight, I., & Turnbull, D. (2017). Exploring the potential of anticipated regret as an emotional cue to improve bowel cancer screening uptake. BioMed Research International, 2017(2949020), 20-27.

Zeelenberg, M. (1999). Anticipated regret, expected feedback and behavioral decision making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 12(2), 93–106.<93::AID-BDM311>3.0.CO;2-S

Zeelenberg, M., & Pieters, R. (2007). A theory of regret regulation 1.0. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 17(1), 3–18.

External links[edit | edit source]