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For other uses, see Regret (disambiguation).
John Greenleaf Whittier's fictional heroine Maud Muller gazes into the distance, regretting her inaction and thinking about what might have been.

Regret is a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors. Regret is often expressed by the term "sorry" whereas "I'm sorry" can express both regret and sympathy. Regret is often a feeling of sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance, or guilt, after one acts in a manner and later wishes not to have done so. Regret is distinct from guilt, which is a deeply emotional form of regret — one which may be difficult to comprehend in an objective or conceptual way. In this regard, the concept of regret is subordinate to guilt in terms of its emotional intensity. By comparison, shame typically refers to the social (rather than personal) aspect of guilt or (in minor context) regret as imposed by the society or culture (enforcement of ethics, morality), which has substantial bearing in matters of (personal and social) honor.

It is also distinct from remorse, which is a more direct and emotional form of regret over a past action that is considered by society to be hurtful, shameful, or violent. Unlike regret, it includes a strong element of desire for apology to others rather than an internal reflection on one's actions, and may be expressed (sincerely or not) in order to reduce the punishment one receives.

Regret can describe not only the dislike for an action that has been committed, but also, importantly, regret of inaction. Many people find themselves wishing that they had done something in a past situation.


There are extremely specific models of regret mostly in economics and finance. Of these, the most clearly emotional is buyer's remorse, also called buyer's regret.

Furthermore, guilt can lead a person to mental illness, such as with survivor guilt.

Existential regret has been specifically defined as 'a profound desire to go back and change a past experience in which one has failed to choose consciously or has made a choice that did not follow one’s beliefs, values, or growth needs'.[1]


People who suffer from Antisocial personality disorder and Dissocial Personality Disorder are incapable of feeling regret or remorse.

Meta-analyzing studies involving what we regret most has concluded that overall, Americans regret choices regarding their education the most. Subsequent rankings then include decisions about career, romance, and parenting. Education was the forerunner of regret in a number of different studies.[2]


Research upon brain injury and fMRI link the orbitofrontal cortex to the processing of regret.[3][4]

In animals[edit]

A study conducted in 2014 by neuroscientists based at the University of Minnesota show that rats are capable of feeling regret about their own actions. This emotion had never previously been found in any other mammals apart from humans. The study reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found that rats expressed regret through both their behavior and their neural activity. Those signals were specific to situations the researchers set up to induce regret, which led to specific neural patterns in the brain and in behavior.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lucas, Marijo (January 2004). "Existential Regret: A Crossroads of Existential Anxiety and Existential Guilt". Journal of Humanistic Psychology 44 (1): 58–70. doi:10.1177/0022167803259752. Retrieved 15 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Roese, N.J. (2005). "What We Regret Most...and Why". Personality & social psychology bulletin 31 (9): 1273–85. doi:10.1177/0146167205274693. PMID 2394712. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Coricelli, G; Critchley, HD; Joffily, M; O'Doherty, JP; Sirigu, A; Dolan, RJ (2007). "Regret and its avoidance: a neuroimaging study of choice behavior". Nat Neurosci 8 (9): 1255–62. doi:10.1038/nn1514. PMID 16116457. 
  4. ^ Coricelli, G; Dolan, RJ; Sirigu, A (2007). "Brain, emotion and decision making: the paradigmatic example of regret". Trends Cogn Sci. 11 (6): 258–65. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2007.04.003. PMID 17475537. 
  5. ^ Steiner, Adam P; Redish, A David (2014-06-08). "Behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of regret in rat decision-making on a neuroeconomic task". Nature Neuroscience 17: 995–1002. doi:10.1038/nn.3740. ISSN 1546-1726. 

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