Regret and Counterfactual Thinking in the Face of Inevitability: The Case of HIV-Positive Men

Kai Epstude*, Kai J. Jonas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Regret and counterfactual thoughts have been extensively studied in laboratory settings characterized by unlimited future options. Yet, evidence of counterfactual thought and its effects in real-life situations is scarce. The present study demonstrates the influence of regret and counterfactuals on HIV-seropositive individuals (N = 182). Results show that HIV-specific regrets as well as counterfactuals exert negative influence on well-being. However, counterfactuals also increased the likelihood to behave differently in the future by indicating stronger safe-sex intentions. Retrospectively, participants experienced a relatively high level of responsibility for their infection, which increased the experience of regret. Taken together, our results show that regret and counterfactuals have functional and dysfunctional consequences in this health-related context. We discuss the theoretical implications as well as the practical consequences of our findings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-163
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • counterfactual thinking
  • regret
  • well-being
  • health
  • illness cognition

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