The role of anticipated regret in choosing for others

Shiro Kumano, Antonia Hamilton and Bahador Bahrami

Scientific Reports, 11, Article No. 12557, 2021

In everyday life, people sometimes find themselves making decisions on behalf of others, taking risks on another’s behalf, accepting the responsibility for these choices and possibly suffering regret for what they could have done differently. Previous research has extensively studied how people deal with risk when making decisions for others or when being observed by others. Here, we asked whether making decisions for present others is affected by regret avoidance. We studied value-based decision making under uncertainty, manipulating both whether decisions benefited the participant or a partner (beneficiary effect) and whether the partner watched the participant’s choices (audience effect) and their factual and counterfactual outcomes. Computational behavioural analysis revealed that participants were less mindful of regret (and more strongly driven by bigger risks) when choosing for others vs for themselves. Conversely, they chose more conservatively (regarding both regret and risk) when being watched vs alone. The effects of beneficiary and audience on anticipated regret counteracted each other, suggesting that participants’ financial and reputational interests impacted the feeling of regret independently.