Surrogate utility estimation by long-term partners and unfamiliar dyads

Richard J. Tunney*, Fenja V. Ziegler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number315
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - 25 Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

© 2015 Tunney and Ziegler. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Decision-making
  • Perspective-taking
  • Surrogate accuracy
  • Surrogate decisions
  • Utility estimations


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