Getting over past mistakes : prospective and retrospective regret in older adults

Yi HUANG*, Narun PAT, Bing Cai KOK, Jingwen CHAI, Lei FENG, Rongjun YU

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective: A considerable number of older people who hold powerful positions in governments and corporate are actively engaged in making decisions that have a far-reaching impact on the community. Some of them have to make decisions on behalf of others, and sometimes, the outcomes of their decisions for others are unfavorable. We experience retrospective regret when the obtained outcome turns out to be less attractive than the counterfactual one. We also actively make choices to avoid regretful outcomes if we prospectively anticipate the regret. In the current study, we investigated how older adults experience regret and how they make choices to avoid potential regret, in the context of making decisions for themselves and on behalf of others. Method: Sixty younger and 60 older participants performed a gambling task in which two types of regret were independently measured: prospective (planning to avoid regret during decision making) and retrospective (feeling of regret following the comparison of alternative outcomes). Results: Our results showed that compared to younger adults, the older adults were less sensitive to regret-inducing outcomes, whereas they demonstrated comparable ability in using prospective regret to guide decisions, regardless of whether they made decisions for themselves or on behalf of others. Discussion: Our findings indicate that although older adults experience blunted regret, their ability to avoid future regret to guide subsequent choices remains unimpaired. Our research has implications for understanding how older adults cope with regret.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-478
Number of pages10
JournalThe journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences
Issue number3
Early online date6 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by Lingnan University Direct Grant (sponsored by the UGC Knowledge Transfer Fund, #101161) to Yi Huang. The data is available upon request. This work is not pre-registered.

© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: [email protected].


  • Counterfactual
  • Decision making
  • Disappointment
  • Self-other discrepancy


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