Monday, July 05, 2004

No Regrets

This is interesting:
Regret, then, emerges from the feeling of disappointment when we contrast the actual outcome of our actions to some possible (more favorable) outcome that our counterfactual thinking allows us to imagine (the question of whether such counterfactual scenarios are themselves reasonable or not is an entirely different matter). That is why Camille et al. studied regret in people with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex: the hypothesis was that these individuals, unlike normal human beings, would be able to experience regret, because their cognitive and emotional pathways were uncoupled by the brain injury...

The results were as clear as one could have hoped for: disappointment (learning one had lost the gamble) turned into the stronger emotion of regret (when one acquires knowledge of what would have happened if one had chosen the alternative action) in normal individuals. Patients with orbitofrontal damage, however, experienced disappointment, but no regret whatsoever, in accordance with the hypothesis that -- while still interested in the outcome of their gamble -- they were incapable of emotionally processing counterfactual thinking.
As the article goes on to say, this raises some intriguing possibilities regarding the remorselessness of some criminals. If their lack of regret is due to a similar brain injury, is it really fair of us to hold that against them? Such questions will need to be answered as cognitive science progresses, and our actions, thoughts, and feelings become ever more explicible in naturalistic terms.


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