The availability of non-instrumental information increases risky decision-making

Julian R. Matthews, Patrick S. Cooper, Stefan Bode, Trevor T.J. Chong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Contemporary models of decision-making under risk focus on estimating the final value of each alternative course of action. According to such frameworks, information that has no capacity to alter a future payoff (i.e., is “non-instrumental”) should have little effect on one’s preference for risk. Importantly, however, recent work has shown that information, despite being non-instrumental, may nevertheless exert a striking influence on behavior. Here, we tested whether the opportunity to passively observe the sequence of events following a decision could modulate risky behavior, even if that information could not possibly influence the final result. Across three experiments, 71 individuals chose to accept or reject gambles on a five-window slot machine. If a gamble was accepted, each window was sequentially revealed prior to the outcome being declared. Critically, we informed participants about which windows would subsequently provide veridical information about the gamble outcome, should that gamble be accepted. Our analyses revealed three key findings. First, the opportunity to observe the consequences of one’s choice significantly increased the likelihood of gambling, despite that information being entirely non-instrumental. Second, this effect generalized across different stakes. Finally, choices were driven predominantly by the likelihood that information could result in an earlier resolution of uncertainty. These findings demonstrate the importance of anticipatory information to decision-making under risk. More broadly, we provide strong evidence for the utility of non-instrumental information, by demonstrating its capacity to modulate primary economic decisions that should be driven by more motivationally salient variables associated with risk and reward.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Decision-making
  • Information
  • Reward
  • Risk
  • Uncertainty

Cite this