Study: Feeling Regret Only Makes You More Miserable
Apr 24, 2012 13:15
Regret is a horrible feeling. Which is why a new study published in Science found that learning to live without regret might be the key to making sure you're not miserable when you're old. Don't cry over spilled milk. An idiom to live by that's true.
Researchers did brain scans of 21 healthy young people, 20 older people who were mostly in their 60s and who were suffering from depression, and 20 older people who were healthy. The participants were asked to play a video game that involved opening a series of eight boxes from left to right.
Opening them revealed either gold, which was worth some amount of money, or a picture of a devil, which meant, they lost all of the winnings collected from prior boxes. People could stop and keep their winnings at any point, and after the game was over, the position of the devil was revealed to the players, offering them a chance to see whether they would have won if they had chosen the right box in the beginning. It also showed the lagest possible amount of money one could have won. The knowledge of this provided opportunity for them to feel regret over their choices.
The scans found that the more times people failed to get the most money, the more risks they'd take during the next game. The behaviour was an attempt to minimize regret in the future, but the interesting part is that the people who did it were the young people and the depressed older people.
Healthy older people seem to have figured out a way to not let regret affect them. Researchers revealed to the young and depressed older people that they'd missed a chance to win more money, and both of the groups showed a reduced activity in a region of the brain called ventral striatum that is associated with reward.
The healthy older people had a similar response only when they'd actually lost money, but didn't have a response when they didn't win the maximum possible amount.
The study's authors believe that this shows that the healthy older people had learned to regulate their feelings of regret about an event by telling themselves it was, "determined by factors they can't influence (chance/the experimenters) whereas depressed elderly blame themselves for the outcome."
Disengagement from regret experiences at a point of life where the opportunities to undo regrettable behavior are limited may be a protective strategy to maintain emotional well-being.