Regrets of action and inaction across cultures

Thomas Gilovich, Ranxiao Frances Wang, Dennis Regan, Sadafumi Nishina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When looking back on their lives, people in the United States tend to regret things they failed to do more than things they did. But is this tendency universal across cultures, or is it the product of the West’s obsession with action and self-actualization? To address this question, the authors conducted five studies in three cultures thought to be less individualistic than the United States - China, Japan, and Russia. Respondents in all three cultures tended to regret - like their counterparts in the United States - inactions more than actions in the long term. Nor did the types of regrets reported by participants in these cultures - overwhelmingly involving the self exclusively rather than the social group - differ from the regrets reported by U.S. samples. These data support the universality of the tendency for inaction to generate greater long-term regret than action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-71
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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