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December 9, 2011 / Simon Thorne

I hope I don’t regret this blog…

I was watching the Million Pound Drop on Channel 4 last night and noticed a few things. The Million Pound Drop is fairly basic game in which participants answer 8 questions in order to win £1million pounds, but has a few things that make it entertaining TV and an excellent example to use for this weeks topic; Regret. Last night I noticed after almost every answer, the two contestants would look at each other, as if to say “We should have put more money on that” and “I knew that was the answer”. As I touched on last week, hindsight can be a curse. One particularly interesting moment was during the last few seconds of one question in which a large amount of money was moved from one answer to another. The money was moved from the correct answer, and his face dropped dramatically when the answer was wrong. Why was this wrong answer more regretful than any other wrong answer given? I would put this down to a near miss. There was money on other answers which were also wrong, but the fact that they had moved from the correct answer to the wrong answer in the last few seconds just made it all the worse. The near miss is similar to that a silver medalist will feel, the bronze medalist is likely to be much happier because the silver medalist can only imagine how close they were to gold. Near misses can cause regret.

So close, yet so far.

Barry Schwartz, author of Why more is less, suggests that as we are being bombarded with more and more choice, we actually become less happy about the choices we make. After all isn’t there always something better out there? In the consumerist world that we live, we are constantly being bombarded with ‘the best’. Everybody wants the best of everything, and this is breeding a generation of maximizers. A maximizer is referred to as somebody that is always striving for the best. When shopping for a sweater, they will search the store, and the next, and the next looking for their perfect sweater. In the media we are often told to strive for the best reinforcing this style of living. On the other side of the spectrum we have satisficers (hate the name). A satisficer is somebody who knows the general idea of what they want, and as soon as they find something that meets their criteria, they’re done. In reality a healthy mix between the two is optimal. Some decisions you will want to consider more than others. Maximizing too many decisions however, will lead to regret much more often.

 

In today’s world we are always connected with what is going on around us. This only makes people all the more knowledgeable, in hindsight, and can lead to many cases of regret. Stumbling across information that may have been useful pre-purchase will lead to counterfactual thinking, what could have been? The added information in hindsight allows you to create a scenario that would have been the best-case scenario. The fact that you didn’t find the information before hand is a fact, and imagining a world where you would have found this is hypothetical. This contributes to regret if you find a better option elsewhere, when in hindsight you can create a fictional reality which would have been better. Also over time your initial enthusiasm about the product you purchased will diminish. This is called adaptation; therefore in hindsight you will feel as if the product didn’t live up to expectations, and that an alternative would have been better. When in all likelihood any decision is likely to have better alternatives, and due to adaptation you would feel as if the purchase was not as good as first thought! This is when satificing will reduce the amount of regret, for small decisions, have minimum requirements that once met will do. Maximizers will constantly be looking at other options to justify their purchase. This will inevitably lead to almost constant regret.

 

Regret can motivate our decisions too. Anticipated regret can influence what item we purchase. If our best friend owns an iPad and you are also considering buying a tablet, you know that if you buy a different tablet you will have a definitive answer whether or not your tablet or the iPad is better. If you find that your friend’s iPad is much better than your choice, regret is inevitable. The only way to avoid the possibility of regret is to buy you’re the iPad like your friend did. Sure you may stumble across information on websites or blogs about other tablets being great, but nothing would compare to the comparison to your peer.

 

A factor that often contributes to regret is sunk costs. Sometimes it is hard to let go of things that have already happened. Imagine you have bought a season ticket to your favourite football team for £450, and then one match day a friend offers you the chance to go to a concert for free. It would be hard to give up the match as you have paid so much towards it already, if however you had received a discount season ticket and only paid £200 for the season, you may find it much easier as there is lesser prior input on your part. In reality the costs have already gone, and you cant recuperate your initial expenditure, so both people should just ask themselves what they would rather do that day, and ignore any prior costs. The same goes for the stock market, people will often hold on to shares that will prove even more costly, just because they paid a higher price for them. The only thing that should matter is the future potential of the stock, but you will often see people hold on to something and lose even more.

 

Regret is an interesting subject, but it is something that’s roots are firmly planted in hindsight. Looking back on past events we can create many ways to tell ourselves that things could have turned out differently, but this is counterfactual, and at the end of the day almost worthless if it causes us distress. When we get feedback for our blogging assignment, I may have achieved less than I wanted, and in hindsight I could have done a lot of things differently. As I made this blog I am highly responsible, and therefore even more likely to feel regret if things go badly. Much like the contestants on Million Pound Drop, I have made my choice, and what is done is done.


I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. If you are interested in this blog, keep coming back, i have enjoyed this assignment and will carry on blogging!

Thank you.

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6 Comments

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  1. Lynn / Dec 9 2011 9:04 pm

    I don’t regret reading that – but there again I am a satisficer!
    You do need to proof read a bit better though

  2. psu90b / Dec 15 2011 6:57 pm

    Hindsight is a horrible thing. I think it is most painful in the consumer world. I regret things that I do in my personal life, but that doesn’t cost me money. I think consumers must hate hindsight as it makes you realise wasted money. Losing money is just something we all hate. I’ve bought expensive things thent five minutes after leaving the shop I’ve instantly regretted…so how do we solve this hindsight problem? Well in a lot of cases it’s already solved for us, refunds! You’ve got to love them. Most refunds have a set amount time to bring back a product, which I love because if this didn’t exist I would have a lot of useless junk I didn’t need. Also we have the fact that we have warranty’s for set amounts of time, and most importantly insurance! So hindsight can be a horrible thing in so many occasions, but it can also be easily fixed as some of the nice companies let us bring their stuff back.
    However this is obviously not always the case. For example if you buy shoes you can’t return them if you’ve worn them outside. Also some shops only allow exchanges rather than money back. I think consumers probably respond better to shops that let them return their goods in a long period of time with full cash back, I know I do. I think that companies would be more successful if they did this, espically with more expensive items. You can test drive a car so why not let us test drive a new mobile, some products can be a high investment so we want to make sure it’s the right thing for us. Companies need to understand this and maybe adapt their return policies accordingly or at least in some cases give us the option to have a ‘test drive’.

  3. Simon Thorne / Dec 15 2011 8:09 pm

    In his book Why more is less, barry schwartz suggests that shops that offer returns can sometimes be the problem with regards to regret. Having the option to return something creates that niggly impression that their is something better out there. In his terms it allows maximizers to carry on looking for better even after a purchase. If you are a saticficer on the other hand once you have got your item you would be happy that you have what you needed. Adaptation means that we are going to come back to neutral after the initial elation when finding a product. What you buy one day is not going to give you the same ‘buzz’ a few weeks down the line. Take a new car for example. The first few times you buy it, you will be driving your ‘new’ car, but this will soon wear off, and suddenly you will just be getting into your car, no special buzz about it. This adaptation happens faster than we think, what we think will make us happy for a long time, very rarely does.

    When we find adaptation sinking in, and were no longer infactuated with our purchase, we will start to think there was something better out there which would have made us happy for longer. This is not the case, if we got something else we would probably be feeling exactly the same. When we part with our hard earned money though it is often hard to drop the money out of mind. Money can be used to buy many things, so we think of lots of other alternatives we could of had. Maybe what we should try to do better is not think of our possessions in terms of how much they cost. A pair of shoes that cost us £40 is not a £40 pair of shoes. Its just a pair of shoes. It is nice to think of counterfactual alternatives to what really happened, maybe a different pair would have made us happier longer, but then again maybe not. Sometimes we just have to accept what decisions we made, and move on.

  4. oDDcONSUMER / Dec 16 2011 1:34 am

    Regret is indeed an interesting subject. The only thing I regret after reading your blog was the fact that I didn’t think so much about regret and hindsight. I am definitely one of the maximiser guys who always strives for the best opportunity. But unfortunately that doesn’t satisfy me in a long-term because I am always deeply frustrated when I see the same item I bought somewhere else for one pound less. I can’t help it, I guess I am some kind of “bad loser”. Instead of being just happy and satisfied I waste so much time on weighing all the available offers.

    Regret is very painful. Perhaps the best the way to overcome regret, is to change the perspective on looking at these particular situations. One can’t prevent to get into a regret situation. In case it is going to happen, just take it easy.

  5. Chris_Shenton / Dec 16 2011 3:06 pm

    I’m sure I have seen a (chocolate rich) presentation that mentioned regret somewhere this week… hmm 😉

    I guess that as you say towards the end, although regret plays a massive role in our decisions it is restricted largely to the post-evaluation/hindsight stage.

    In general I would put myself down as a satisficer (absolutely awful name, as you say) and I will often just buy early on. And then, ultimately regret when I find the same product (or better) for a lower price just down the street. But I don’t learn and will then go on to do it again next week. Often I will buy a new DVD/Video game soon after release in order to share an experience with a friend. I know that in about 2 weeks time the same product will be in one of the “bargain bins” and I am likely to regret the monetary price I paid but I want it now in order fit within my social circle or to stand out from others who are waiting to purchase.

    What I guess i’m doing here is accepting the trade off of saving money versus (for example) time saved or status gained.

  6. wouldyoulikelieswiththat / Dec 16 2011 4:47 pm

    Indeed, regret in any avenue in life is awful. I hate hindsight, I want to exterminate him. The worst regret comes at this time of year I think. That post – purchase evaluation when you realise that the jumper you got for your weird cousin is actually horrific and tacky, all rolled in to one, You start to regret buying it, and indeed feel guilty about it too. That is an important relationship – regret and guilt. These are moral emotions and imply a sense of wrongdoing by the individual in question. Another way of putting this is cognitive dissonance. Elliot & Devine (1994) refer to it as “psychological discomfort”, which is a neat way of putting it. Here, the dissonance revolves around the need to buy a gift for someone at Christmas, for example, and the nauseating feeling when you realise that it’s utter tripe. The need(present) versus want(to get home/laziness) means that cognitive dissonance rears its ugly head, and gives you a headache too. Lovely.

    I think a key factor in the consumer world regarding regret regards time. Trying to get 40 things done in a couple of hours is silly and akin to the over-confidence effect. On top of that is the planning fallacy, which sees people planning a lot for a limited number of hours and not realising how unrealistic and completely insurmountable the tasks are. This is why, I believe the rush on Christmas Eve is still very much apparent, despite the whole Christmas thing being around for a wee while now! There’s even a website proposing tips especially for the last minute shopper-http://blog.seattlepi.com/giftideas/2010/12/24/for-the-last-minute-shopper-gifts-you-can-find-on-christmas-eve/

    I reckon planning, realistically, being organised and taking your time will leave regret (and unwanted gifts) at the door, and let those moral emotions such as shame and guilt to freeze outside as you enjoy a regret – free position in front of the fire!

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