Regret, Regret Anticipation, Regret Right and Digital Regret


Regret is an advanced social sentiment based on cognitive judgment.

This is said by Xiaokun Xu and Xiaolin Zhou from Brain Science & Cognitive Science Center of Peking University. A Simple and effective explanation of regret – it is happened in society and depends on the level of one’s cognitive ability.

Like fair and pain, human beings achieve such negative emotions from evolution to strengthen survivability.

In the digital situation, regret also happens between the social relationship.

Close your eyes for a minute, and “imagine the worst thing you have ever done, your most shameful secret. Imagine that cringe-inducing incident somehow has made its way online.” You no longer have control over that tiny digital trace of your incident, which is now stored online as a picture, text or video. A prospective employer, current partner or future grandchild might get hold of it. Your life could change for the worse in the blink of an eye.

In the article Praise for regret: People value regret above other negative emotions, written by Colleen Saffrey, Amy Summerville, and Neal J. Roese, published in NIH (National Institute of Health), there is a study offering meticulous explanations,

Regret was seen to be the most beneficial of 12 negative emotions on all five functions of

  1. making sense of past experiences
  2. facilitating approach behaviors
  3. facilitating avoidance behaviors
  4. gaining insights into the self
  5. preserving social harmony

Moreover, Kahneman and Miller said,

Regret has been defined as a counterfactual emotion.

It means that regret’s basis rests on a counterfactual inference (i.e., that the past might have unfolded differently, particularly if a different decision had been made).

This is the ability people obtain from practice, and apply in practice to outperform themselves.

Regret is a negative emotion hinging on the recognition that a personal action could have made the past better (Landman 1993; Zeelenberg 1999).

In the Behavioral Economics, this is named as Regret Anticipation.

According to all mentioned above, it is easy to find a closed loop system:

Regret anticipation.png

In addition, people also have Regret Right to choose if we will adhere to the choice we made or give up it.

Regret anticipation2.png

Normally, the Regret Right is invisible or in other words, isn’t taken seriously when making any choice. People usually do not have that much chance to use this right. But in this post-digital age, the situation is different. People does not only have the Regret Right, but are usually asked to make a decision after having made a choice.


In this context, Digital Regret means one who owns visual Regret Anticipation and  a kind of strengthened regret right.

However, do people realize that Digital Regret is unnatural? In one hand, people do have greater freedom to eliminate the negative sense from regret by choose NO, or cancel the event in progress, or delete posts. In other hand, it’s reasonably to doubt that every regret rights in digital context may designed within complex logic of economics: The final decision is not what people want to make, but others want them to make. I know an art project of an app about preventing regret. Its working mechanism is that the app will always remind you what may happen when you make any decision, again and again. (I can’t memorize the name now, but later I will find and share it)

By the way, this article is not mainly focus on how regret mechanism works (I do have great interest about it, maybe later I can make a further research about it). People have a too strengthened Regret Right, whenever they feel Digital Regret they can easily cancel or delete or establish a group of whom the information is invisible to. The habit people develop in digital regret effects their life as well.

Ctrl+Z, as Saleh mentioned, has already been one of the most radical influences to human beings’ daily life because of offering a extra simple way to digest or prevent regret emotion.

Their is also an EU Data Protection Regulation “right to erasure” about Ctrl+Z.

The right to erasure (the right to be forgotten)

This right regulates (online) data privacy in the EU, imposing on “data controllers” such as Google the legal duty to delete portions of information upon a user’s request, when the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the latter have been infringed. It intersects the key social values of identity, privacy, memory and reputation as they are redefined in the digital age.

By Ctrl+Z, people can undo anything you have done in a digital way, and undo an undo, and undo an undo of undo… In this background of Digital Regret, I believe there will be consistent growth of demand and desire of Ctrl+Z or I called Regret right in not only digital life but also physical life. The post-designer’s responsibility is not to stop, but to provide more regret right to users.



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