A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed a new link between older adults’ ability to effectively cope with regrets and engaging in downward social comparisons (i.e., contrasting oneself with those of others who are worse off). Explicitly, the study examined the utility of downward social comparisons later in life in conjunction with individuals’ beliefs about their ability to correct the experiences, causing them to feel regret.
Interestingly, the authors found that downward social comparisons, when contrasted with upward social comparisons, were only useful for boosting positive affect in older adults when they perceived low opportunities to overcome their regrets. Furthermore, although positive emotions were enhanced when individuals felt that their regretful experience was not easily fixable, these downward comparisons did not decrease the amount of negative emotion they felt about the situation or event.
The results from this article suggest that although opportunities to undo regret-laden experiences typically diminish as individuals become older, these opportunities can still show variability in later adulthood. Therefore, it appears that perceptions of opportunities to amend earlier life events filled with feelings of regret may not correlate as strongly with age as suggested by previous research. Specifically, a person’s belief in available opportunities, as opposed to chronological age, seems to be the important variable for determining the adaptive or maladaptive utility of psychological defense mechanisms similar to downward social comparisons.
Bauer, I., & Wrosch, C. (2011). Making up for lost opportunities: The protective role of downward social comparisons for coping with regrets across adulthood. Personality and Social Psychology, Bulletin, 37, 215-228.