Thinking About Regret: Number of Memories and Ease of Retrieval Influence Judgments About Regret
Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, Vol. 1, No. 4, 2014, pp.329-338
11 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2015
Date Written: March 31, 2015
Do you have many regrets from last year? To answer that question, you might start searching your memory and accumulating evidence. But your answer might not depend on how many regrets you remember. Instead, it might depend on how easy it feels to remember them. People often think that they have a larger pool of experiences to sample from when remembering feels easy than when remembering feels difficult. Thus, the relative ease of remembering can give us a quick indication of how many experiences we have had. Do people also rely on this feeling when thinking about their regrets? Across 3 experiments, we asked people to remember easy or difficult numbers of regrets from the past year, and then to rate how much regret they had for that year. Contrary to our predictions and the literature, we found that people relied on both number and ease: after remembering a small but easy number of regretted experiences, they rated the past year as less full of regret than others who remembered a large but difficult number. This pattern of results remained even when we drew people’s attention to the ease or difficulty of remembering. These results add nuance to the published literature, and suggest that when we think about how many regrets we have, what matters most is quantity and missed opportunity.
Keywords: ease-of-retrieval, memory, regret
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