Rational choice, neuroeconomy and mixed emotions

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Jan 27;365(1538):259-69. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0177.


Experimental psychology has shown differences between predictions of theory of decision and human choices. Emotions like regret can partly explain these differences. Neuroimagery used in combination with behavioural economics (neuroeconomics) has been used in order to try to disentangle the different emotional and rational factors (regret, rejoicing, reward, costs, uncertainty, trade-off between positive and negative aspects of different options). Emotions then appear as much more complex and mixed affective states than usually assumed. Not only might we feel a positive affect in punishing unfair partners, but mixed emotions can, for example, combine transmutation of previous anxiety into relief and elation by comparison with another less exciting option (elating relief). At the level of complexity of these mixed emotions--which we formally represent by comparisons between 'unexpected utilities' and expected ones--the main biases that Kahnemann and Tversky have shown can be explained. In spite of the complexity of these mixed emotions, some of these hypotheses might be partially tested by brain imagery.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Decision Theory*
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*