Regret is a central emotion in reflecting about the past and involves blaming oneself for having done something or not having done something (Gilovich & Medvec, 1995). Many studies have been conducted on the experience of regret in people, with regards to their decision-making process and how they can factor in the anticipated regret into their final decision. In the experience of anticipated regret, many studies have been conducted to understand the impact of anticipated regret at different points in decision-making. In this essay, I will be reviewing literature on the study of anticipated regret in adults and adolescent decision making, particularly in the aspects of sexual behavior, gambling preferences and alcohol and drug use, and how these current literatures can set the foundation for further research into adolescents’ social behavior in the interaction of anticipating regret and conformity to group views.
Risk-seeking tendencies are particularly prominent in adolescents in decision making , and this has been shown in cognitive studies identifying the neuroanatomical and neurodevelopmental differences in adolescents as compared to adults (Kelley, Schochet & Landry, 2004). As the cognitive functions and pathways responsible for rational thinking achieve sophistication, adolescence is a stage where risk-seeking behaviors are particularly prevalent (Kelley et al., 2004). The prefrontal regions in the brain, responsible for rational thought only develops throughout adolescence, hence adolescents are less able to consider the full range and severity of the consequences of their decisions. This increases their susceptibility to rash decision making and may ultimately result in risk-seeking choices in unsafe sexual practices, which exposes them to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections. This also affects their behavior in other aspects, such as drinking behavior (Cooke, Sniehotta, & Schüz, 2007; Davies & Joshi, 2018; Murgraff, Mcdermott, White, & Phillips, 1999; Stoddard, Bauermeister, Gordon-Messer, Johns, & Zimmerman, 2012), and choices in gambling (Tochkov, 2009). The decreased sensitivity to anticipated regret increases the tendency of risk-seeking behaviors in adolescents, which may result in them putting their own lives at risk sometimes.
Another characteristic of adolescent decision making is that of the increased impact of peer influence. As individuals progress through adolescence, the impact of peer influence increases and peaks during adolescence (Steinberg & Monahan, 2007). In other words, individuals are the most susceptible to the influence of their peers during adolescence. There are two explanations proposed to understand the strength of peer influence on adolescent decision making. The first states that during the developing stages of adolescence, peers grow to have a larger impact as individuals are seeking to be part of a group identity and group acceptance at this point in time (Steinberg & Monahan, 2007). The peer group becomes more notable in the mind of an adolescence, thereby influencing the way they think. The second explanation proposed states that adolescents tend to value the opinions and views of the peer groups that they are forming or identify with, more so than that of an adult or people in other age groups to them (Steinberg & Monahan, 2007). Group conformity becomes ever more salient as individuals would change their behavior or thinking in order to garner acceptance from their peer groups or attempt to fit in (Steinberg & Monahan, 2007). This may explain why adolescents tend to engage in riskier behavior in the presence of groups, such as unhealthy drinking practices, irresponsible driving behavior, unsafe sexual practices or engaging in casual relationships with multiple sexual partners, gambling etc. The salience of the group conformity in influencing adolescent behavior in group is an interesting concept to study against the salience of anticipated regret in adolescent decision making.
Due to the maturing prefrontal regions and the heightened sensitivity of adolescents to group conformity, adolescence becomes a period where individuals are more than ever likely to engage in risky behavior (Steinberg & Monahan, 2007), as shown in the various researches above. The lack of anticipating regret in adolescents during decision making results in risk-seeking behaviors in some cases when they should choose the risk-aversive behavior in accordance with the regret-minimizing principle. This can be further compounded by the presence of groups which can result in them being even more insensitive to anticipating regret and hence result in more extreme risk-seeking behaviors. This provides room for further research on how stimulating anticipated regret can influence adolescent decision making to provoke regret-minimizing behavior and how group conformity can influence this relationship.
People often look back on their experiences and reflect on certain events that made them feel regret. Ranging from actions that they should not have committed, to actions that they did not commit, people feel regret for a wide range of actions (Gleicheretal., 1990; Kahneman & Tversky, 1982a; Landman,1987b) (as cited in Gilovich & Medvec, 1995). Regret is an emotion arising retrospectively of decision-making, and this occurs when the outcome resulting from their decision is worse off compared to the outcomes of their alternative decisions back then (Zeelenberg, 2017). There is a sense of individual responsibility central to regret (Zeelenberg, 2018), which allows people to reflect and correct their mistakes for future decision-making. There are many factors which affect the feeling of regret, particularly the effect of time. In a study conducted by Gilovich and Medvec (1995), the experience of regret was found to vary with time. Gilovich and Medvec (1995) found that in the short term, individuals are more likely to experience regret for actions committed, whilst in the long term, individuals are more likely to regret actions that were not committed (inactions). The study proposed several reasons for the shift in feelings of regret with changes in time. There were factors which reduce the regret from committing actions, factors which increase the regret from inactions, and the Zeigarnik effect, which states that regret resulting from inactions tend to become more cognitively accessible as opposed to regret resulting from actions (Gilovich & Medvec, 1995).
Compared to the retrospective nature of regret, anticipated regret is a prospective emotion in which people try to foresee the amount of regret resulting from their current decisions and proceeding to choose such that they minimize/avoid regret (Zeelenberg, 2018). There have been several theories formed to explain the use of anticipated regret in decision making. One such theory is the regret theory. This theory states that individuals take into consideration the anticipated regret they will feel from their available choices during decision making (Loomes & Sugden, 1982). In this theory, individuals base their decisions on the minimax principle (Luce & Raiffa, 1957; Savage, 1951) (as cited in Zeelenberg, 1999). As such, individuals predict the maximum regret that will be experienced from each of their available options and proceed to choose the option that has the minimal amount of maximum regret. Therefore, it is safe to assume that rational individuals behave in a regret-minimizing way when using anticipated regret as a factor in decision-making. This principle holds in spite of the decision being risk-seeking or risk-aversive. Contrary to prior belief that individuals behave in a risk-aversive manner, this study showed that individuals however behaved in a regret-aversive manner instead. As such, this explains why individuals chose the risk-seeking decision instead of the risk-aversive option as previously believed as it was the regret-minimizing option (Janis & Mann, 1977) (as cited in Zeelenberg, 1999). This study provided further insight of how people take anticipated regret into consideration when they make decisions, and accounts for why the eventual decisions people make sometimes entail the relatively riskier option out of those available. Several other studies have been made to generalize the use of the regret theory and anticipated regret in decision making across different decision-making contexts (Simonson, 1992; Ritov, 1996) (as cited in Zeelenberg, 1999).
There have been several studies made on the role of anticipated regret in decision making in the areas of common risk-seeking behaviors observed in adolescents. This includes unsafe sexual practices, alcohol-related behaviors, gambling preferences. Various studies have been conducted on reckless behavior but results of the study were not generalizable to adolescents as the study subjects were not adolescents. Furthermore, the situations have not been applied to group decision making, which prompts further research into the interaction of anticipated regret and role of group conformity in group decision making.
Anticipated regret in adolescent decision making
Several studies have been conducted to study the role of anticipated regret in several aspects and instances of reckless adolescence behavior. In the following sections, I will be reviewing some of the literature conducted on the aspects of sexual behavior, gambling and drinking practices.
According to a study by Richard, van der Pligt, & de Vries (1996), adults who were induced to anticipate emotions after unprotected sex recorded an increased in anticipated regret and a negative attitude towards unprotected sex. This study showed that anticipated regret increases the salience of regret-minimizing tendency in people to choose the risk-aversive decision in the case of unprotected sex that can result in sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy etc. The risk-aversive behavior induced through the use of anticipated regret also stood the test of time, as participants reported attitudes against unprotected sex 5 months after the initial study was carried out (Richard et al., 1996). The temporal effects of regret were shown in the short term as subjects displayed aversive behavior towards unsafe sexual practices, as they anticipated regret towards the act of unsafe sexual practices. These results therefore corroborate with that of the study by Gilovich & Medvec (1995) as mentioned above. From this study, it can be concluded that the use of anticipated regret drives subjects towards risk-aversive behavior in the case of unsafe sexual practices (Richard et al., 1996).
However, the subjects in the above study were adults, and the results of this study has not been generalized to include adolescents as well. Given that adolescents may be unable to thoroughly consider the impact of their actions as well as adults do (Hartley & Somerville, 2015), anticipated regret may not induce such strong risk-aversive behavioral tendencies in adolescents, whose cognitive functions and prefrontal regions are still maturing (Kelley et al., 2004). In the regret-minimizing principle, the regret-minimizing behavior is risk-aversive, as engaging in safe sexual practices puts adolescents at a lower risk of unwanted pregnancies or contracting sexually transmitted infections. The lack of anticipating regrets in adolescents can however push them towards risk-seeking behaviors instead (Kelley et al., 2004). This is therefore an interesting point to consider for future research to generalize the use of anticipated regret to induce risk-aversive behavior in adolescents.
Given that adolescents are also susceptible to the views of their peer group (Steinberg & Monahan, 2007), group conformity can be hypothesized to influence their views towards casual relationships as well. In a study about peer influence can impact adolescent decision making in terms of sexual situations Widman, Choukas-Bradley, Helms, & Prinstein (2016) found that adolescents are more susceptible to the influence of their peers in seeking out casual relationships. This is further corroborated by Brown (1982), who found that in his retrospective study about undergraduates during their time in high school, that adolescents tend to feel a moderate amount of peer pressure with regards to having sex. Conformity to group beliefs can therefore fuel risk-seeking behavioral tendencies existing due to lack of anticipated regret. This therefore warrants further study into how adolescents’ view of sexual relationships can change with anticipated regret and how group conformity can mediate this relationship.