Should Have Kissed Her

Should Have Kissed Her

There's a kind of popular myth that people more-often regret the kisses they didn't go for than the ones they did. For example:

Bar chart showing "Number of Google results for I _____ have kissed her" (or him), with 1,213 results for "shouldn't" and 10,230 results for "should"
via xkcd

The implied or explicit advice is "therefore, whenever you're on the fence, you should go for the kiss." The statistical reasoning here is terrible, which annoys me disproportionately to any actual importance it has.

I want to state up front that I am in no way anti-smooching. I think a lot of people miss a lot of chances in life, through fear or caution, and often should just go for it. As my coauthor writes, if you're reading this post I'm going to assume certain things about you and, no offence, one of them is that you over-think stuff and should probably just go for things more. Still and all, the population-level regret-comparison has absolutely nothing to do with it.

The problem is the base rate fallacy: if people in general are more likely to not-kiss than to kiss, you can get more expressions of regret about not-kissing even if both activities are equally regret-inducing.

Here's a worked example. Suppose that 9 out of 10 times, people don't go for the kiss, and only 1 out of 10 times they do:


Now suppose that, in either condition, there's an equal chance you'll be unhappy with whatever you do. (For simplicity, let's say a 1/2 chance you'll be happy with your choice and 1/2 chance you'll regret it, regardless of which option you go with). In that case, there would be 9 times more instances of people saying "I should have kissed him" than "I shouldn't have," even though both options are exactly equally likely to be regretted.

What do you know: this hypothetical would map almost-exactly onto the data presented in the comic.

by ATVBT featuring xkcd

If I were a different kind of writer I would drag out this simple idea for another thousand words, but I won't: go for the kiss, but don't fall for the base rate fallacy.

Here's a poem:

Regret | The Walrus
I’d like to take back my not saying to you those things that, out of politeness, or caution, I kept to myself. And, if I may though this might perhaps stretch the rules Id like to take back your not saying some of the things that you never said, like I love you and Wont

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