An Experimental Decision-Making Paradigm to Distinguish Guilt and Regret and Their Self-Regulating Function via Loss Averse Choice Behavior
Frontiers in Psychology
Both guilt and regret typically result from counterfactual evaluations of personal choices that caused a negative outcome and are thought to regulate human decisions by people's motivation to avoid these emotions. Despite these similarities, studies asking people to describe typical situations of guilt and regret identified the social dimension as a fundamental distinguishing factor, showing that guilt but not regret specifically occurs for choices in interpersonal (social) contexts. However,
... experimental paradigm to investigate this distinction systematically by inducing emotions of guilt and regret online is still missing. Here, extending existing procedures, we introduce such a paradigm, in which participants choose in each trial between two lotteries, with the outcome of the chosen lottery (gain or loss) being either assigned to themselves (intrapersonal trials) or to another person (interpersonal trials). After results of both the chosen and the unchosen lottery were shown, subjects rated how they felt about the outcome, including ratings of guilt and regret. Trait Guilt (TG) was determined for all participants in order to take their general inclination to experience guilt into account. Results confirmed that guilt but not regret specifically occurred in an interpersonal context. Percentages of loss averse choices (choosing the lottery with the lower possible monetary loss) were determined as indicators of regulation via guilt and regret avoidance. High TG scorers generally made more loss averse choices than low TG scorers, while trial-by-trial analyses showed that low TG scorers used their feelings of guilt more specifically to avoid the same emotional experience in subsequent choices. Our results confirm the social dimension as the critical factor distinguishing guilt from regret and identify TG as an important moderator determining the way in which guilt vs. regret can regulate their own occurrence by influencing choice strategies.