User Tools

Site Tools


regret and regret avoidance and decision making


  • regret is an emotion associated with a decision that turns out badly.
  • it would appear that most animals, not just humans have neural pathways which process the emotion of regret, and that this has evolved as a powerful tool to modify behaviour and adapt to survive
  • decision making is thus partly affected by a process of counterfactual reasoning that helps one to relate the outcome of a previous decision with the percieved outcome of what may have occurred had one opted for the rejected decision instead.
  • regrets are what one feels when they analyse this counterfactual reasoning and percieve that they made a poor decision
  • regrets are of two main types
    • regrets of comission:
      • regrets of deciding to do something
    • regrets of omission:
      • regrets of deciding not to act
  • for many people regrets of omission are more prominent in their memories than regrets of comission because:
    • the outcome of a decision to do something is more tangible and real, and often adverse consequences can be mitigated by taking contingency actions to repair the damage done, or by percieving them to be not so bad via a variety of psychological defence mechanisms such as:
      • justifying the actions
      • blaming others
      • exaggerating adverse consequences of the rejected decision
      • forgetting adverse consequences of our decisions and focusing on only the good outcomes (eg. gamblers)
    • the potential outcomes of not deciding to do something are often far less tangible and allow fantasy thinking that if only one did that, they would have had a better life (eg. telling someone they loved that they loved them instead of being afraid to tell them).
  • regrets and regret avoidance thus have a powerful role to play in all our decision making whether it by financial investments, personal relationships, career choices, and for doctors, clinical decision making for our patients - it is thus important we understand how this may affect our decision making and potentially push us down the wrong path.

neurobiology of regret

  • the neural pathways of regret appear to differ from those of disappointment1)
  • regret generates higher physiological responses and is consistently reported by normal subjects as more intense than disappointment

dual-level processing theory

"1st level" reward processing

  • the dopamine-basal ganglia “bottom-up” system
  • midbrain neurons differentiate rewarding from non-rewarding stimuli (punishers) in the environment, define expectations (perhaps through tonic activity), and detect a mismatch between expected and actual outcomes
  • if the stimulus response is higher than expected, dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain (eg. ventral tegmentum and substantia nigra) become activated and this activity is propagated via diffuse projections to areas including the striatum (basal ganglia) and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC).
  • at this level of processing, the brain is not able to discriminate between different rewards (alternatives), which is the main point of economic decision making.

striato–OFC interaction

  • reward information from the first level defines and updates relative reward values and subjective preferences and have an adaptive function which is limited to facilitate (Go) responses that lead to positive outcomes (reward), or suppression (NoGo) of responses that lead to negative outcomes (punishers)
  • the OFC can bias responses according to their relative reward and affective value (top-down modulation), approximating preferences and emotional experience of the organism
  • the medial temporal regions (e.g. ABL) support the OFC in assigning affective value to the choice outcomes, and update these associations within a representational memory

"2nd level" reward processing

  • the OFC-amygdala “top-down” processing
  • this is mutually independent of “1st level” processing
  • this processing occurs in regions such as the OFC, ACC, and, perhaps, the amygdala
  • these responses are related to how we learn to select appropriate rewards on the basis of relative preferences or affective value
  • the adaptive role of the amygdale–OFC system is much more flexible and is related to more complex behavior compared with dopamine–basal ganglia system
  • there appears to be a crucial contribution of the prefrontal cortex in determining behavior which involves situations where “inner models of reality are used to govern behavior”
  • the level of regret appears to be strongly correlated with activity in the medial OFC, although this area also enhances with reward attainment and thus it may be that enhancement of the medial OFC reflects devaluation in extinction of conditioned aversive stimuli and inflation of aversive stimuli.
    • lesions of the medial OFC do not impair processing of primary rewards, but seems to interfere with relative reward discrimination which includes conditions involving prospective and counterfactual appraisal
  • it would appear that cognitive context, exemplified by counterfactual thinking in relation to states of the world, exerts a modulatory influence on OFC activation related to reward and punishment2)
  • the OFC has a fundamental role in adaptive behaviour

regret and subsequent decisions

  • the experience of regret, can induce specific mechanisms of cognitive control including enhanced responses in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, right lateral OFC and inferior parietal lobule during a choice phase after the experience of regret
  • subsequent choice processes induced reinforcement, or avoidance, of the experienced behavior
  • if players in a game minimize regret, the frequency of their choices converges to a correlated equilibrium(i.e. the rational solution) of the game
psy_regret.txt · Last modified: 2014/06/12 06:14 by

Donate Powered by PHP Valid HTML5 Valid CSS Driven by DokuWiki