Sunday, February 17, 2019

Anticipating regret

I apologize, I forget who sent me this article highlighting some recent research by Joshua Buckholtz, associate professor of psychology at Harvard, and Arielle Baskin-Sommers, assistant professor of psychology and of psychiatry at Yale University. I think we've talked about at least Baskin-Sommers before. I wish there was a little bit better explanation of the nature of the experiment and how robust their findings were, but essentially what they found was that sociopaths are actually capable of feeling regret and disappointment -- essentially just a wish that things had gone differently than they actually did, perhaps because we had acted differently than we did.

This I find to be true to experience. Not just that, I see it in other sociopaths that I've met and still talk to and I think it underpines the inability of sociopaths to learn for experience. Take for instance a sociopath who has totaled on average .85 cars a year since she started driving. That's very high! But I actually know two separate sociopaths who have a driving history like this. I'm not sure if it's always true, but most of the accidents are caused not by weather conditions, etc., but by inattention to road conditions. Maybe some texting while driving, maybe some wandering mind. But totalling a car is expensive. This is something that you think people would start really trying to avoid. And the advantage of texting while driving or doing other things while driving is so low. If sociopaths were true rational actors engaged in a cost benefit analysis, you'd think that these people would have lower automobile insurance premiums. But they don't. Why?

Maybe normal people are better able to learn from their experience because they can anticipate the regret that they would feel. In fact, probably a lot of the source of normal people's anxiety and worry is really just an anticipation of regret or disappointment. Does this sound right normal people? And because those emotions are so negative and powerful, it directs the normal person to avoid the behavior that carries a high risk of regret with it. Not always, but more than sociopaths maybe.

According to the article:

“The assumption has always been that they make these bad choices because they can’t generate negative emotions like fear, or appropriately respond to emotional signals generated by other people … but we turned that idea on its head.”

Using an economic game, Buckholtz and Baskin-Sommers were able to show that while psychopaths have normal, or even enhanced, emotional responses in situations that typically elicit regret, they have trouble extracting information from the environment that would indicate that an action they’re about to take will result in the experience of regret.

“There are two components to regret,” Buckholtz explained. “There is retrospective regret, which is how we usually think about regret — the emotional experience after you learn you could have received a better outcome if you had made a different choice. But we also use signals from our environment to make predictions about which actions will or won’t result in regret. What differentiated psychopaths from other people was their inability to use those prospective regret signals, to use information about the choices they were given to anticipate how much regret they were going to experience, and adjust their decision-making accordingly.

“It’s almost like a blindness to future regret,” he added. “When something happens, they feel regret, but what they can’t do is look forward and use information that would tell them they’re going to feel regret to guide their decision-making.”

“These findings highlight that psychopathic individuals are not simply incapable of regret [or other emotions], but that there is a more nuanced dysfunction that gets in the way of their adaptive functioning,” Baskin-Sommers said. “By appreciating this complexity, we are poised to develop more accurate methods for predicting the costly behavior of psychopathic individuals.”

Using a measure of prospective regret sensitivity, Buckholtz and Baskin-Sommers were also able to predict whether and even how many times study participants had been incarcerated.

“Contrary to what you would expect based on these basic emotional-deficit models, their emotional responses to regret didn’t predict incarceration,” Buckholtz said. “We know psychopathy is one of the biggest predictors of criminal behavior, but what we found was that behavioral regret sensitivity moderated that, raising the suggestion that intact behavioral regret sensitivity could be a protective factor against incarceration in psychopathic individuals.”

While the study upends the pop-culture image of psychopaths, Buckholtz is hopeful that it will also provide a new direction for scientists who hope to understand how psychopaths make decisions.

“We actually know very little about how psychopaths make choices,” he said. “There have been all sorts of research into their emotions and emotional experience, but we know next to nothing about how they integrate information that we extract from the world as a matter of course and use it to make decisions in daily lives. Getting better insight into why psychopaths make such terrible choices, I think, is going to be very important for the next generation of psychopathy research.”


  1. I personally have never had a wreck and refrain from use of my phone on the road. I just dont understand why people need to be on the phone all the time. I barely look at it and find little motivation to check it during the day.I have had close calls in my car where i almost crash but it came from having a freind in the car and paying to much attention to them and trying to control the situation or i become impatient and maybe take that chance on the left turn yeild. It doesnt cross my mind that im in any danger or there was problem tell my passsenger mentions what ive done wrong. Then i find a reasonto blame it on the other driver for going over the speed limit or bring up some traffic law that would prove im not in the wrong.The danger never crosses my mind and if something did bad happen in my mind I can rationalise to my self that its not my fault.


  2. osm post i love it this post. really appreciate you

  3. I haven't been around here in a while. Have people here really met up with M.E.? How is her she hot? Did you guys do any sex? Does she act all Sociopathical at times? What was your experience like?


  4. "In fact, probably a lot of the source of normal people's anxiety and worry is really just an anticipation of regret or disappointment. Does this sound right normal people?"

    Not at all. Emotions don't really come into it. It's not the driver..heh. Smash car = expensive = almost injured or dead = insurance problems equals reputation problems. These are huge things in the cost side. I don't think, oh I don't feel so good about that so I won't do that again (regret or whatever) so I don't have to feel that. That's like a dumb monkey.

    It's simply I don't want to be a moronic idiot and crash my car (at .85 a year.. really? for how many years? please) because I will have to deal with lots of shit. And I don't like crashing.

    The sociopath does it because they are getting high off something while they are doing it. They are enjoying something and don't care about the consequences. After she is done crashing she'll probably steal the checking account of her neighbor and buy a another car which she'll use as the getaway for a robbery in a nearby town. She doesn't care. Please.

  5. I think a lot of these new fangled doctors are all full of it. They are approaching it like oh here is our victim of the moment and how will we help them. Aren't we so clever. Most studies are completely wrong.. when repeated they get the opposite effect... to even publish you must come up with something new and's a toxic scientific world

    "If sociopaths were true rational actors engaged in a cost benefit analysis"

    But they are not though. They give off the illusion of being rational because they are more present than the average NT due to the effects of neurology and because of that are able to address flow which looks step by step logical on the surface, but it's just access to flow, not logic. It's something to be manipulated by the S. They are manipulators.. not really logical thinkers at all... other than very superficially. They don't care about that. They are adept at shaping logic to manipulate. To get something they want. They are not interested in truth.

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  8. I don't get the regret or the guilt after a thing, even if someone gets hurt (including myself). The world is a complex place, and my actions are just the tip of a very large iceberg in almost any situation. I also don't do pre-regret as a feeling/emotion, but I learned early on to synthesize it because it's so useful. I rarely make tactical errors because of it. There IS a close alignment between the kinds of things we shouldn't do because "morals" and "guilt" and the kinds of things that society penalizes with non-imaginary means.

    That said, I wonder if it's not so much an ability to extract information from pre-regret, but that it just gets over-ridden in the moment. The impulse to do something otherwise is there, and maybe those synapses are faster/stronger than the pre-regret ones. They're left in the dust, and you've downed the extra shots, cut over the lanes, thrown the brick, or whatever. At that point, why look back? The past is complex, and you're only a blip anyway...

  9. There is a very interesting article in psych today called beyond attachment theory. Somewhere sociopaths were not given the right cues and knowledge needed to identify dangerous people, dangerous behavior,ect..So what you have is an adult with no center, no guide. This may be why sociopaths are more aware of societies morals than others. It offers a guide that they so desperately need .But a sociopath also has the ability to avoid shame thru justification. That is a powerful tool. What stops most people from doing stupid or heinous actions? Is it morals? Society? The fear of death or jail. I would have to say it's all of the above .But most people have an inner compass to guide them. They can not simply block shame generated from their actions, and that is a good thing. Death and jail. I would say those are the only two real deterrents sociopaths experience. But even then arrogance plays a big part. Sociopaths can and do convince themselves that they are special, they won't get caught, they will defy gravity. On and on. This is usually their undoing.


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