The road not taken: Common and distinct neural correlates of regret and relief

Mohith M. Varma, Avijit Chowdhury, Rongjun Yu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Humans anticipate and evaluate both obtained and counterfactual outcomes – outcomes that could have been had an alternate decision been taken – and experience associated emotions of regret and relief. Although many functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have examined the neural correlates of these emotions, there is substantial heterogeneity in their results. We conducted coordinate-based ALE and network-based ANM meta-analysis of fMRI studies of experienced regret and relief to examine commonalities and differences in their neural correlates. Regionally, we observed that the experience of both regret and relief was associated with greater activation in the right ventral striatum (VS), which is implicated in tracking reward prediction error. At the network level, regret and relief shared the reward-sensitive mesocorticolimbic network with preferential activation of the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) for regret processing and medial cingulate cortex (MCC) for relief processing. Our research identified shared and separable brain systems subserving regret and relief experience, which may inform the treatment of regret-related mood disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120413
Number of pages14
Early online date17 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • ALE, ANM
  • Counterfactual
  • Fictive error
  • Meta-analysis
  • Regret
  • Relief


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