Surrogate utility estimation by long-term partners and unfamiliar dyads

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Tunney, Richard J. ; Ziegler, Fenja V. (2015)

To what extent are people able to make predictions about other people’s preferences and values? We report two experiments that present a novel method assessing some of the basic processes in surrogate decision-making, namely surrogate-utility estimation. In each experiment participants formed dyads who were asked to assign utilities to health related items and commodity items, and to predict their partner’s utility judgments for the same items. In experiment one we showed that older adults in long-term relationships were able to accurately predict their partner’s wishes. In experiment two we showed that younger adults who were relatively unfamiliar with one another were also able to predict other people’s wishes. Crucially we demonstrated that these judgments were accurate even after partialling out each participant’s own preferences indicating that in order to make surrogate utility estimations people engage in perspective-taking rather than simple anchoring and adjustment, suggesting that utility estimation is not the cause of inaccuracy in surrogate decision-making. The data and implications are discussed with respect to theories of surrogate decision-making.
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