Learning to feel regret 'helps children develop good decision skills'

Regret plays a crucial role in helping children to make better decisions, a new study revealed.

Some who experience the emotion from as young as six learn to make superior choices, Queen's University Belfast said.

Dr Aidan Feeney said there was much concern over the choices some teenagers make around sexual behaviour and alcohol.

He added: "We don't want teenagers to experience regret by making decisions with very serious consequences.

"Instead, we need to understand how learning about other people's regrets might help them anticipate feeling the emotion themselves and therefore chose more wisely."

Dr Feeney, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, said regret was a much-maligned emotion.

He said: "Our study suggests that developing the ability to experience regret may be important.

"It could have significant value to children's development because of its role in decision-making.

"We're not saying teachers and parents should deliberately expose children to serious regret.

"But showing them how things would have turned out differently if they'd made an alternative choice could benefit them."

He said adults know to switch their behaviour the next time when a different decision would have led to a better outcome. This helps them avoid experiencing another negative result.

They learn not to press the snooze button on their alarm, for example, because this has made them late for work before.

However, less is known about how and when children experience regret, and how they learn from this emotion.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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