Dan Gilbert, who was featured in the post on Regret, has done much work on affective forecasting. In many respects this post based on the paper co-written with T.D. Wilson, “Why the brain talks to itself: sources of error in emotional prediction,” and published in Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2009), is just a more generalized explanation of affective forecasting and its shortcomings. Gilbert is a good writer, but he likes a good analogy or one liner almost too much at times. In this case, Gilbert uses an analogy of Mark Twain working on his jokes and notes that the “When the human brain talks to itself, it does not always tell the truth.”
This backward facing emotion is a combination of self-blame and disappointment. Interestingly, we all know that it influences our decision making. Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow notes that neither prospect theory or utility theory take regret into account. It is certainly a big part of television games shows like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” as Kahneman’s example illustrates.
Choose between 90% chance to win $1 million OR $50 with certainty.
Choose between 90% chance to win $1 million OR $150,000 with certainty.
You know that in the second example, you will regret turning down a gift of $150k if you do not win the million. With regret, the experience of an outcome depends on a choice you could have taken, but did not. Kahneman notes that since regret adds more weight to the tool box and little to better prediction, it is not really worth the trouble to include it.