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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 felt when someone feels sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance or guilt after committing an action or actions that the person later wishes that he or she had not done. 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.

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.

A much less emotional formulation is investor's regret, which is a risk measure. Financial theorist Ron Dembo equates these and claims that regret, modified by a risk aversion factor, is the only reliable indicator of risk shared among all investors.

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


Research upon brain injury and fMRI link the orbitofrontal cortex to the processing of regret.[1][2]


  1. ^ 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. PMID 16116457
  2. ^ Coricelli G, Dolan RJ, Sirigu A. (2007). Brain, emotion and decision making: the paradigmatic example of regret. Trends Cogn Sci. 11(6):258-65. PMID 17475537

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