Woulda, coulda, shoulda: The evaluation and the impact of the alternative outcome

Ruolei Gu, Tingting Wu, Yang Jiang, Yue Jia Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The alternative outcome refers to the outcome of the unselected option in decision-making tasks, which has significant influence on the chosen outcome evaluation. Most paradigms have presented the alternative outcome either after or simultaneous with the chosen outcome, which complicates the observation on the brain activity associated with the alternative outcome. To circumvent this perceived shortcoming, we modified the classic paradigm designed by Yeung and Sanfey (2004) such that the alternative outcome was presented before the chosen outcome in each trial while an electroencephalogram was recorded. The feedback-related negativity (FRN) elicited by the positive alternative outcome was larger than that elicited by the negative alternative outcome, suggesting that the participants evaluated the positive alternative outcome as negative feedback. Moreover, the FRN and the P3 elicited by the chosen outcome were influenced by the valence of the alternative outcome. The current study reveals that the alternative outcome is treated as important information even though it is economically neutral.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1354-1360
Number of pages7
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Alternative outcome
  • Counterfactual thinking
  • Decision making
  • Feedback-related negativity (FRN)
  • Logic error
  • Outcome evaluation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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