You might think regret has an upside -- to help you avoid repeating a mistake -- but new research shows it's just not so, especially when it comes to casual sex.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology asked volunteers to fill out a questionnaire about sexual regret -- twice, about 4½ months apart.
"For the most part, people continue with the same sexual behavior and the same level of regret," said clinical psychologist Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, who led the study.
His team found that even though both women and men might regret how they reacted the last time they had a chance for a one-night stand, they often do so for far different reasons.
Women tend to regret having seized the opportunity, while men regret not having done so, the study found.
"A lot of emotions are functional, like disgust that protects against infection and fear that protects against danger," Kennair pointed out in a university news release.
"An evolutionary approach has helped us understand anxiety by understanding the function of fear: Fight-flight-freeze is about avoiding danger and defending ourselves against it," he added.
So why didn't study participants learn from their mistakes?
Probably because a person's behavior depends on their personality, the researchers said, and that's something quite different and more complex than a shorter or more prolonged feeling of regret.
"We are not that surprised," Kennair said. "If regret helped, would not most sinners eventually become saints? What do you regret the most often? Has it changed your behavior?"
He noted that regret can change according to conditions, and he and his colleagues have repeated that in articles on the subject in recent years.
"And now we have tested it," Kennair added.
Study co-author Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, a postdoctoral fellow, said most researchers -- and most people -- think regret is wise.
Instead of spending time being regretful, Kennair said it might be smart to ponder the things you often regret in your everyday life.
"There are some folks who think that depressive ruminating and worry are a good idea," he said. "But the way we treat depression and generalized anxiety disorders is by helping people to stop ruminating and to stop worrying. Not everything people do, think or feel is an evolutionary adaptation -- sometimes it is not appropriate either."
The report was published recently in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.
GoodTherapy, which connects people with mental health resources, offers more thoughts on the subject of regret.
SOURCE: Norwegian University of Science and Technology, news release, April 5, 2021