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Durham e-Theses
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Regret as Autobiographical Memory

DAVISON, IAN,MICHAEL (2010) Regret as Autobiographical Memory. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



An autobiographical memory framework for the study of regret is contrasted with traditional decision-making approaches to regret. Based on the autobiographical memory framework a memory-based distinction is introduced between regrets for specific and general events. Across 6 studies the distinction is applied to issues related to the temporal pattern of regret and to survey data showing that long term inaction regrets tend to concern experiences from early adulthood. Studies 1 and 2 examined the temporal distribution of experienced regrets within the context of the “reminiscence bump” phenomenon from autobiographical memory research. Participants regretted proportionally more experiences from early adulthood than from elsewhere in the lifespan, but this pattern obtained for general regrets only: specific regrets were more randomly distributed and tended to concern more recent events. General regrets were more likely to concern inactions than actions, whereas specific regrets were as likely to concern actions as inactions. Consistent with regret surveys, the most frequently reported regrets concerned family, intimate relationships (including marriage and parenting), education, work, character and self-actualisation. These findings were interpreted with reference to life scripts. Studies 3 and 4 assessed the contribution of the life script to the temporal distribution of imagined future regrets. Young adults imagined and dated experiences they anticipated either themselves (Studies 3 and 4a), a peer (Study 4b) or an average person (Study 4c) might regret in life. A preminiscence bump peaking in decade three was found for general regrets. Across Studies 3 and 4 imagined regrets focussed on similar experiences, were described in predominantly general terms and were overwhelmingly associated with inaction. The experienced regrets of young adults (Study 3) were similar in content to the regrets described by older adults about the same period (Studies 1 and 2). The results are interpreted as evidence that a culturally timetabled script deems some events more important and regret-worthy than others. Study 5 examined regret’s relationship with other emotions. Specific regrets more often evoked hot and moral emotions, while general regrets more often evoked wistful emotions, and neither type was more strongly associated with despair emotions. Study 5 also considered a distinction between self- and other-focussed regrets. Self-actualisation and other-focussed regrets were statistically indistinguishable and both were more likely than self-achievement regrets to evoke moral emotions such as guilt, remorse, and shame. Finally, Study 6 showed that general regrets had a broader impact than did specific regrets insofar as they affected more domains and produced more consequences. Across all of the studies in the thesis the domains of family, intimate relationships, character, education, work and self-development are the main source of real and imagined regrets. It is argued that the representation of event knowledge in autobiographical memory combined with culturally determined scripts together shape what people regret in life.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:regret, autobiographical memory, temporal pattern, action-inaction
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Psychology, Department of
Thesis Date:2010
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:30 Mar 2010 14:16

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