A study finds that sexual regret doesn't change how we behave in the future.
- Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology investigate the degree to which regret regarding sexual encounters makes us modify our behavior.
- Women more often have regrets about encounters that occurred, while men regret the ones that didn't.
- According to the study, people keep doing what they've been doing and continue to have the same regrets.
When it comes to sexual encounters, both women and men may be left with feelings of regret in the fading afterglow. Women, according to recent research, are more likely to experience "action regret," wishing they hadn't had sex. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to report "inaction regret" if they feel they've passed up on a sexual opportunity.
Both may experience regret, says a new study, but not so much that it changes their behavior going forward.
Speaking to Norwegian SciTech, the lead author of the study, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair of Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), says, "For the most part, people continue with the same sexual behavior and the same level of regret."
The evolutionary value of emotion
Credit: Morgan Lane/Unsplash
"We wanted to examine if their level of regret contributed to a change in behavior the next time around," says senior author Mons Bendixen, who collaborated with Kennair and postdoctoral fellow Trond Viggo Grøntvedt.
Explains Kennair, "A lot of emotions are functional, like disgust that protects against infection and fear that protects against danger. 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."
The authors say that psychologists generally assume that emotions such as regret serve an evolutionary purpose — they keep us from repeating undesirable behavior.
"Researchers," says Grøntvedt, "have found that most people believe this is true for regret. They assume that regret is actually a helpful negative feeling. People assume it guides them not to repeat what they regretted."
The flexibility of regret
Credit: Priscilla Du Preeze/Unsplash
To see if sexual regret does actually change people's behavior, the researchers invited NTNU students to complete an anonymized web questionnaire about sexual regret. Prospective participants were told:
"We invite you to participate in a research project that examines students' thoughts and feelings after having had casual sex (intercourse), and what factors that may affect these… Some of the questions are sensitive and relate to sexual acts and choices you may have made. Responding may cause some discomfort and embarrassment, and we recommend that all participants sit in an uninterrupted location when answering the questions."
Individuals who agreed to participate were asked to fill out the survey two times, 4.5 months apart. The volunteers were between 18 and 30 years of age. For the first pass at the questionnaire, 529 students, 63.2 percent of whom were female, participated. Just 283 people completed the questionnaire both times.
The questionnaire revealed a resounding, "Nope!" Four and a half months later, individuals had continued to hook up or not hook up in the same way they had at the start of the study. They also exhibited the same level of regret.
Credit: Phix Nguyễn/Unsplash
Kennair admits, "We are not that surprised. If regret helped, would not most sinners eventually become saints? What do you regret the most often? Has it changed your behavior?"
The researchers suggest that, as they suspected at the outset of the project, regret is an emotion that's adaptive, with its impact on behavior dependent on context. In the case of sexual regret, there may be a disconnect between what we think we should want and what we really want.
It may also be that habit simply overpowers regret. Previous studies have found that habits create ever-stronger neural pathways — it's why people often repeat mistakes. The idea is that making a mistake a first time creates a neural pathway to which we increasingly and unconsciously gravitate each time we repeat the error.
Kennair cautions, however, against getting too hung up on sexual regrets.
"And yet," he says, "there are some folks who think that depressive ruminating and worry are a good idea. 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."
Escaping the marshmallow brain trap.
- Roman Krznaric, philosopher and author of the book "The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking," says that there are two parts of the human brain that are driving our decisions and ultimately determining what kind of legacy we leave behind for future generations.
- Short-term thinking happens in the marshmallow brain (named after the famous Stanford marshmallow test), while long term thinking and strategizing occurs in the acorn brain. By retraining ourselves to use the acorn brain more often, we can ensure that trillions of people—including our grandchildren and their grandchildren—aren't inheriting a depleted world and the worst traits that humankind has to offer.
- "At the moment we're using on average 1.6 planet earths each year in terms of our ecological footprint," says Krznaric, but that doesn't mean that it's too late to turn things around. Thinking long term about things like politics and education can help "rebuild our imaginations of what a civilization could be."
Philosophers, theoretical physicists, psychologists, and others consider what or who is really in control.
- What does it mean to have—or not have—free will? Were the actions of mass murderers pre-determined billions of years ago? Do brain processes trump personal responsibility? Can experiments prove that free will is an illusion?
- Bill Nye, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Michio Kaku, Robert Sapolsky, and others approach the topic from their unique fields and illustrate how complex and layered the free will debate is.
- From Newtonian determinism, to brain chemistry, to a Dennett thought experiment, explore the arguments that make up the free will landscape.
A recent study showed that monkeys can make logical choices when given an A or B scenario.
- For centuries, humans have wondered which cognitive abilities animals share with people.
- In a new study, researchers presented baboons with a "hidden-item" task designed to test their understanding of disjunctive syllogisms.
- The results showed that the baboons were not only successful in the task, but also displayed signs of confidence in their decision making.
You show a toddler a treat. Out of sight, you place it under one of two opaque cups. You lift up one cup, but there's no treat. You set that cup back on the table. The toddler makes a logical inference: It's under the other cup.
This two-cup hidden-item task is commonly used to measure cognitive abilities and development. Studies have shown that 2-year-olds and even some animals can reliably choose the right cup, suggesting they're capable of inferential reasoning. Specifically, they seem to be reasoning through a disjunctive syllogism: given A or B, if not A, then B.
Still, for toddlers and animals, it's hard to know whether they're actually using inferential reasoning. Perhaps they frame it like: maybe A and maybe B.
To find out whether monkeys actually have the brains to reason through a disjunctive syllogism, a recent study used an updated form of the hidden-item task. The results showed that monkeys can, suggesting that animals don't need verbal labels for logical concepts like "or" and "not" to make logical choices.
In the study, published in Psychological Science, researchers trained a set of baboons on the two-cup hidden-item task. Most of the baboons got the hang of it, successfully selecting the cup with the treat (a grape) above chance levels. Then the researchers added a twist, introducing a total of four cups (opaque, polyvinyl-chloride cylinders) instead of two.
Credit: Ferrigno et al.
The task was set up like this: A researcher and a baboon were separated by a cage. In front of the researcher was a wooden board, on top of which were four cylinders. The wooden board could be moved into the baboon's side of the cage, where the baboon could make a decision by pointing to a cylinder.
The researcher started by lifting all cylinders to reveal they're empty. She showed the monkey a grape. To prevent the baboon from seeing where the grape went, she'd place an occluder in front of two of the four cylinders, and then placed the grape in one of the two cylinders. The researcher then slid the occluder over to the remaining set of two cylinders and repeated this process.
So, one grape went into one of the two cylinders in the first set, another grape went into one of the two cylinders in the second set. For example: either cylinder 1 or 2 has a grape; either 3 or 4 has a grape.
The baboon was then presented with the board to make a decision. The baboon indicated its choice by pointing to one of the four cylinders. If the baboon guessed correctly, it got the treat. If it guessed incorrectly, the researcher revealed that the cylinder was empty. No matter the outcome, the researcher pulled away the wooden board for a few seconds, and then presented it again so the baboon could make a second choice.
Why set up the experiment like this? The baboons already seemed to have a solid grasp of the two-cup hidden-item task (given A or B, if not A, then B). But the four-cup task put their understanding of it to the test: If the baboons were indeed reasoning through a disjunctive syllogism, they would understand that there's a dependent relationship between each set of two cups.
Ferrigno et al.
In other words, they would understand that if cup 3 was empty, they should stay within that same set and point to cup 4, not switch their focus to the next set by pointing to cup 1 or 2.
The baboons seemed to understand this logic, according to the study results.
"Specifically, when subjects chose an empty location first, they were more likely to stay in the same baiting set and choose the other cylinder in the set (59% of trials, 271/463) than switch to the other set (41% of trials, 192/463)," the researchers wrote. "Conversely, when subjects chose a cylinder containing a grape for their first choice, they were more likely to switch to the other baiting set and choose either one of the two cylinders (66% of trials, 267/403) than stay in the same set (34% of trials, 136/403)."
Ferrigno et al.
What's more, the baboons often displayed confidence in their decisions: When they discovered that a cylinder within a set was empty, some of them began pointing at the remaining cylinder before the wooden board was even presented to them. The baboons "prepointed" correctly 79 percent of the time.
"Overall, our results show that nonhuman primates have the capacity to represent the abstract, combinatorial, or logical thought required to reason through a nonverbal disjunctive syllogism," the researchers wrote. "To date, this has been shown only in children of at least 3 years old and in a single African gray parrot."
But while the researchers said their results indicate that monkeys have a "higher level nonverbal cognition," further research is needed to determine exactly what that cognitive mechanism is.
"It is unknown how widespread this ability is at the population level, a question that should be addressed in future research. Furthermore, the precise mechanism by which animals reason through a nonverbal disjunctive syllogism requires detailed study."
Study confirms the existence of a special kind of groupthink in large groups.
- Large groups of people everywhere tend to come to the same conclusions.
- In small groups, there's a much wider diversity of ideas.
- The mechanics of a large group make some ideas practically inevitable.
People make sense of the world by organizing things into categories and naming them. "These are circles." "That's a tree." "Those are rocks." It's one way we tame our world. There's a weird correspondence between different cultures, though — even though we come from different places and very different circumstances, cultures everywhere develop largely the same categorizations.
"But this raises a big scientific puzzle," says Damon Centola of the University of Pennsylvania. "If people are so different, why do anthropologists find the same categories, for instance for shapes, colors, and emotions, arising independently in many different cultures? Where do these categories come from and why is there so much similarity across independent populations?"
Centola is the senior investigator of a new study in the journal Nature Communications from the Network Dynamics Group (NDG) at the Annenberg School for Communication that explores how such categorization happens.
Some have theorized that these categories are innate—pre-wired in our brains—but the study says "nope." Its authors hypothesize that it has more to do with the dynamics of large groups, or networks.
The grouping game
Some of the shapes used in the experiment
Credit: Guilbeault, et al./University of Pennsylvania
The researchers tested their theory with 1,480 people playing an online "Grouping Game" via Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform. The individuals were paired with another participant or made a member of a group of 6, 8, 24, or 50 people. Each pair and group were tasked with categorizing the symbols shown above, and they could see each other's answers.
The small groups came up with wildly divergent categories—the entire experiment produced nearly 5,000 category suggestions—while the larger groups came up with categorization systems that were virtually identical to each other.
Says Centola, "Even though we predicted it, I was nevertheless stunned to see it really happen. This result challenges many long-held ideas about culture and how it forms."
Nor was this unanimity a matter of having teamed-up like-minded individuals. "If I assign an individual to a small group," says lead author Douglas Guilbeault, "they are much more likely to arrive at a category system that is very idiosyncratic and specific to them. But if I assign that same individual to a large group, I can predict the category system that they will end up creating, regardless of whatever unique viewpoint that person happens to bring to the table."
Why this happens
The many categories suggested by small groups on the left, the few from large groups on the right
Credit: Guilbeault, et al./Nature Communications
The striking results of the experiment correspond to a previous study done by NDG that investigated tipping points for people's behavior in networks.
That study concluded that after an idea enters a discussion among a large network of people, it can gain irresistible traction by popping up again and again in enough individuals' conversations. In networks of 50 people or more, such ideas eventually reach critical mass and become a prevailing opinion.
The same phenomenon does not happen often enough within a smaller network, where fewer interactions offer an idea less of an opportunity to take hold.
The study's finding raises an interesting practical possibility: Would categorization-related decisions made by large groups be less likely to fall prey to members' individual biases?
With this question in mind, the researchers are currently looking into content moderation on Facebook and Twitter. They're investigating whether the platforms would be wiser when categorizing content as free speech or hate speech if large groups were making these decisions instead of lone individuals working at these companies.
Similarly, they're also exploring the possibility that larger networks of doctors and healthcare professionals might be better at making diagnoses that would avoid biases such as racism or sexism that could cloud the judgment of individual practitioners.
"Many of the worst social problems reappear in every culture," notes Centola, "which leads some to believe these problems are intrinsic to the human condition. Our research shows that these problems are intrinsic to the social experiences humans have, not necessarily to humans themselves. If we can alter that social experience, we can change the way people organize things, and address some of the world's greatest problems."