The impact of doubt on the experience of regret

Philippe P.F.M. van de Calseyde*, Marcel Zeelenberg, Ellen R.K. Evers

*Corresponding author for this work

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Decisions often produce considerable levels of doubt and regret, yet little is known about how these experiences are related. In six sets of studies (and two pilot-studies; total N = 2268), we consistently find that doubts arising after a decision (i.e., when people start questioning whether they made the correct decision) intensify regret via increased feelings of blame for having made a poor choice. These results are consistent with decision justification theory (Connolly & Zeelenberg, 2002) and regret regulation theory (Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007), yet inconsistent with subjective expected pleasure theory (SEP; Mellers, Schwartz, & Ritov, 1999). That is, SEP would have predicted less regret as those who already doubted their decision should be less surprised when learning that their decision indeed could have been better (as compared to those who were certain that they made the correct decision). We find mixed results for the effect of post-decisional doubt on the experience of relief and no support for a relationship between a person's degree of doubt before a decision and the intensity of regret. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-110
Number of pages14
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Early online date12 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Action effect
  • Decision justification theory
  • Doubt
  • Regret
  • Subjective expected pleasure theory


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