Human decisions can be shaped by predictions of emotions that ensue after choosing advantageously or disadvantageously. Indeed, anticipating regret is a powerful predictor of future choices. We measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while subjects selected between two gambles wherein regret was induced by providing information about the outcome of the unchosen gamble. Increasing regret enhanced activity in the medial orbitofrontal region, the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus. Notably, across the experiment, subjects became increasingly regret-aversive, a cumulative effect reflected in enhanced activity within medial orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala. This pattern of activity reoccurred just before making a choice, suggesting that the same neural circuitry mediates direct experience of regret and its anticipation. These results demonstrate that medial orbitofrontal cortex modulates the gain of adaptive emotions in a manner that may provide a substrate for the influence of high-level emotions on decision making.
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