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Affairs of the heart is the number one cause for regret among US citizens according to research by a marketing professor and a professor of psychology. Either decisions made and acted upon about a love affair, or inaction over a romance, would appear to give individuals the most heart ache. Other causes for regret include, education, family and career.

Neal Roese, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University and co-author Mike Morrison, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analysed data from a random sample of adult US citizens. All were asked to describe in detail a moment of regret in their lives and whether the regret was based on an active or a passive response.

Of those questioned, 18 per cent reported romance as their most profound regret and were more or less evenly divided on whether the regret was based on action or inaction. Family regrets were also quite common with 16 per cent of participants reporting it as a significant regret. A lack of education and disappointing career were also reasons for remorse.

The study, “Regrets of the Typical American: Findings from a Nationally Representative Sample,” will be published shortly in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

● Each and every day we are faced with decisions - from the mundane such as what to eat for supper to the significant - should I invest my capital in this company for example.

How we make such decisions has long fascinated academics, but new research by two professors at Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and Harvard Business School, has looked at the decision process itself - how both thinking too little or too much about a decision can have far-reaching consequences and cause the thinker to make a mistake.

Thinking too little or too much can create “decision errors” say Michael Norton, associate professor of business administration in the marketing department at Harvard and Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke.

The authors of the paper ‘From thinking too little to thinking too much, a continuum of decision making,’ say that unsurprisingly with so many decisions facing people on a daily basis, a “large percentage of the decisions people make each day are habitual”. However, when taken to the extreme, relying on habit to make a decision - I have always done that in the past and so I will do so again - can be harmful. In this case say the writers individuals would be better off giving the decision a little more thought.

At the other extreme, thinking too much before making a decision can make that decision harder say the writers as individuals “may as a result erroneously give weights to attributes that they do not actually value highly”.

The professors accept that if both thinking either too little or too much can mean a wrong decision what then is the right amount of thought to give to a decision? They suggest someone faced with a decision should ask themselves if they are either thinking too little or too much and if the answer to either is yes then they should make a correction the other way.

“Asking these two questions…may help decision makers get closer to thinking just the right amount” they suggest.

The paper can be read at Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science.


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