Background: Decisions made on behalf of other people are sometimes more rational than those made for oneself. In this study we used a monetary gambling task to ask if the framing effect in decision-making is reduced in surrogate decision-making. Methods: Participants made a series of choices between a predetermined sure option and a risky gambling option of winning a proportion of an initial stake. Trials were presented as either a gain or a loss relative to that initial stake. In half of the trials participants made choices to earn money for themselves and in the other half they earned money for another participant. Framing effects were measured as risk seeking in loss frames and risk aversion in gain frames. Results: Significant framing effects were observed both in trials in which participants earned money for themselves and those in which they earned money for another person; however, these framing effects were significantly reduced when making decisions for another person. It appears that the reduced emotional involvement when the decision-maker is not affected by the outcome of the decision thus lessens the framing effect without eradicating it altogether. Conclusions: This suggests that the deviation from rational choices in decision-making can be significantly reduced when the emotional impact on the decision maker is lessened. These results are discussed in relation to Somatic Distortion Theory.
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