Psychopaths can regret bad decisions—but don't learn from them

November 29, 2016 by Bill Hathaway, Yale University
Psychopaths can regret bad decisions — but don’t learn from them
Credit: stock.adobe.com

Psychopaths do experience regret, particularly when their bad decisions affect them directly—yet they don't use that experience to inform their future choices, according to a new study published the week of Nov. 28 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The popular view of is that they are cold, callous, and simply don't care what happens to themselves or anybody else," said Yale psychologist Arielle Baskin-Sommers, co-author of the paper. "But this research shows they can experience negative emotions—if they are impacted by the situation. "

Baskin-Sommers and co-author Joshua Buckholtz of Harvard University evaluated the responses of 62 men, some of whom scored high on psychopathy measures, to different situations. They found that psychopathic subjects did experience regret, for instance, when they discovered that they would have made money if they had made a different decision in a gambling scenario. But, they did not use that experience to inform later decisions. This inability to learn from their mistakes predicted the number of times the subjects had been incarcerated.

Baskin-Sommers said this form of regret does not imply remorse for actions that harmed other people—an absence that is a hallmark of psychopaths. 

"Regret is self-focused, whereas remorse involves another," she said.

However, if psychopaths possess a sense of regret, it might be possible to help devise a strategy to harness that experience and decrease recidivism among psychopathic criminals, who make up a disproportionate percentage of repeat offenders, Baskin-Sommers said.

"If they don't experience any for their actions, we don't have much of a chance, but these findings suggest that there is something to work with," she said.

Explore further: Targeted computer games can change behavior of psychopaths

More information: Arielle Baskin-Sommers et al. Psychopathic individuals exhibit but do not avoid regret during counterfactual decision making, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1609985113

Related Stories

Targeted computer games can change behavior of psychopaths

December 17, 2014
Psychopaths generally do not feel fear and fail to consider the emotions of others, or reflect upon their behavior—traits that make them notoriously difficult to treat. However, a study published Dec. 18 in Clinical Psychological ...

A simple antidote for shame

October 3, 2016
Have you ever felt embarrassed or guilty? A new study suggests that drinking a cup of cold water or iced tea could reduce these types of uncomfortable emotions.

Poor sleep, fatigue linked to clinical-decision regret in nurses

January 5, 2014
(HealthDay)—Among critical care nurses, clinical-decision regret is associated with sleep disturbances and the resulting fatigue, according to a study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Critical Care.

Age, race may affect Tx decision regret in prostate cancer

March 11, 2015
(HealthDay)—Age, race, and other factors may influence treatment decisional regret among men with prostate cancer, according to research published online March 3 in Cancer.

Testosterone influences regulation of emotions in psychopath's brain

January 21, 2016
Brain research has demonstrated that psychopaths exhibit reduced control over their emotional actions. Researchers from the Donders Institute at Radboud University Nijmegen discovered that the quantity of testosterone a person ...

Recommended for you

Researchers find increased risk of birth defects in babies after first-trimester exposure to lithium

June 18, 2018
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found an elevated risk of major congenital malformations in fetuses after first-trimester exposure to lithium, in the largest study ever to examine the risk of ...

Changing room playlist could give World Cup teams the edge

June 18, 2018
Blasting out Rihanna or Kanye West could give World Cup squads that crucial psychological edge over rival teams, suggests research from Brunel University London.

Gut microbes may contribute to depression and anxiety in obesity

June 18, 2018
Like everyone, people with type 2 diabetes and obesity suffer from depression and anxiety, but even more so. Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center now have demonstrated a surprising potential contributor to these negative ...

Nature programmes could put a spring in your step

June 18, 2018
New research shows that watching TV programmes such as the BBC's Springwatch and Countryfile might actually be good for you.

Helicopter parenting may negatively affect children's emotional well-being, behavior

June 18, 2018
It's natural for parents to do whatever they can to keep their children safe and healthy, but children need space to learn and grow on their own, without Mom or Dad hovering over them, according to new research published ...

Why you should eat popcorn with chopsticks – and other psychological tricks to make life more enjoyable

June 18, 2018
It happens fast. You crack open a bottle of your favorite drink and put it to your lips. The delicious flavor is nearly overwhelming. But a minute later, you're barely noticing the taste as you drink it.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ab3a
5 / 5 (1) Nov 29, 2016
In other words, they regret that they got caught, not that they hurt someone.

Tell me something I didn't know.
TogetherinParis
not rated yet Nov 30, 2016
"Psychopaths" have an easily remedied paternal pheromone deficiency. Take 250mg of healthy adult male facial skin surface lipids and call me in the morning.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.