Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Evaluating the Regret Heuristic

I've used the regret heuristic in the past with mostly positive but somewhat mixed success. I've probably actively thought "Will I regret this?" around 15 times in the past year and about 10 of those decisions I would now characterize as positive. But there's something missing from that simple approach. This recent NYT article by John Tierney article nails it:
In one study, these consumer psychologists asked college students how they felt about the balance of work and play on their winter breaks. Immediately after the break, the students’ chief regrets were over not doing enough studying, working and saving money. But when they contemplated their winter break a year afterward, they were more likely to regret not having enough fun, not traveling and not spending money. And when alumni returned for their 40th reunion, they had even stronger regrets about too much work and not enough play on their collegiate breaks.
So the conclusions one draws from projected regret aversion will vary based on what time scale he/she chooses. Perhaps the best strategy is to estimate whether you will regret something in 5 days and also whether you will regret it in 5 years. Then, use both estimates in making your decision.