The role of self-discrepancies in distinguishing regret from guilt

Xiaolu Zhang*, Marcel Zeelenberg, Amy Summerville, Seger M. Breugelmans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Regret and guilt are self-conscious emotions. They stem from negative events for which people feel responsible. Both emotions reflect discrepancies between how people are (their “actual” self) and how they would like to be (their “ideal” or “ought” self). We examined whether regret and guilt were related to different self-discrepancies (i.e., “ideal” and “ought” self-discrepancies). Two studies (total N = 1998) with Chinese and US participants found that people feel more regret over ideal self-discrepancies than over ought self-discrepancies, whereas for guilt this is more complex. We also found a main effect for culture such that ideal self-discrepancies were associated more with both emotions in the USA compared to China. Implications for the differences between regret and guilt are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-405
Number of pages19
JournalSelf and Identity
Issue number3
Early online date28 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jan 2020


  • culture
  • guilt
  • Regret
  • self-discrepancies


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