Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Profile: Romantic Regrets

“Sometimes people say, ‘I’d like to live life with no regrets,’ but that’s really not the deal,” said Neal Roese, a Kellogg marketing professor.

According to Roese, the deal is that regret is a “natural part of life” as proven in his recent study, Regrets of the Typical American: Findings from a Nationally Representative Sample.

“It’s good to listen to the regret and think what it’s trying to tell you…where there is room for changes for the future,” he said.

Funded by the National Institute for Mental Health to show connections between regrets and depression, the study notes that women on average have more romantic regrets than men. At 44 percent, romantic regrets reported by women are more than double the regrets reported by men, a gap that was one of the biggest surprises of the study said Mike Morrison, co-author and University of Illinois graduate stutdent. Men reported more regrets related to career opportunities and money.

“It connects to a well-worn stereotype that women are more romantic, but it speaks to a deeper truth,” Roese said. “The traditional role of fixing and maintaining relationships falls to women so women on average are thinking more about how to keep relationships together whether they’re romantic or family [or] friends.”

But Roese and Morrison said it is possible the career focus will balance out between men and women in coming generations.

In general, people’s regrets tended towards areas of life that were lacking whether it was a romantic partner, education or career routes. But “if you worry a lot now about how to save money, or make more money, it turns out that it’s not high up on the list of regrets,” Roese said.

For the study, 370 randomly selected participants shared one regret – giving information on when it happened, and if it was because of an action they committed or failed to commit.

And the participants were eager to tell the story of their greatest regrets to contribute to the research.

“It’s interesting how many personal details people were willing to share,” Roese said. “People appreciated the fact that they could get things off their chests and also somebody was interested in these emotions.”

A regret-free life may not be so desirable. Roese said he considers regrets a proof of the human innate creativity. For now, a lack of regret is an imperfection limited to computers.

“Maybe intelligent computers in the future might be able to feel regrets – that’s a weird thought,” he said.

Though Roese has been teaching for more than 15 years, he is a new addition to Northwestern having taught at Kellogg for two years. Before coming to NU, Roese taught at the University of Illinois. He has published about 30 research papers as well as a book, If Only: How to Turn Regret Into Opportunity, on the subject of regrets.

Morrison became involved with the research five years ago at the start of his graduate studies at the University of Illinois, where Roese was his advisor.

“He’s great to work with, and every study I’ve done has been great; it’s always improved by my discussions with him,” Morrison said. “If I could end up with the type of accomplishments he’s had, I’d be very pleased.”

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Profile: Romantic Regrets