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Are Some Deaths Worse Than Others? The Effect of 'Labelling' on People's Perceptions

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  • Anne Spencer

    (Queen Mary, University of London)

  • Judith Covey

    (University of Durham)

  • Angela Robinson

    (University of East Anglia)

  • Graham Loomes

    (University of East Anglia)

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    Abstract

    This paper sets out to explore the extent to which perceptions regarding the 'badness' of different types of deaths differ according to how those deaths are 'labelled' in the elicitation procedure. In particular, we are interested in whether responses to 'contextual' questions - where the specific context in which the deaths occur is known - differ from 'generic' questions - where the context is unknown. Further, we set out to test whether sensitivity to the numbers of deaths differs across the 'generic' and 'contextual' versions of the questions. We uncover evidence to suggest that both the perceived 'badness' of different types of deaths and sensitivity to the numbers of deaths may differ according to whether 'generic' or 'contextual' descriptions are used. Qualitative data suggested two reasons why responses to 'generic' and 'contextual' questions differed: firstly, some influential variables were omitted from the 'generic' descriptions and secondly, certain variables were interpreted somewhat differently once the context had been identified. The implications of our findings for 'generic' questions, such as those commonly used in health economics (for example, the EQ 5D), are discussed.

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    File URL: http://www.econ.qmul.ac.uk/papers/doc/wp620.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Queen Mary, University of London, School of Economics and Finance in its series Working Papers with number 620.

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    Date of creation: Dec 2007
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    Handle: RePEc:qmw:qmwecw:wp620

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    Keywords: Preferences; Context effects; Affect heuristic;

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    1. Loewenstein, George & O'Donoghue, Ted, 2004. "Animal Spirits: Affective and Deliberative Processes in Economic Behavior," Working Papers 04-14, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
    2. Loomes, Graham, 2006. "(How) Can we value health, safety and the environment?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 27(6), pages 713-736, December.
    3. Subramanian, Uma & Cropper, Maureen, 2000. " Public Choices between Life Saving Programs: The Tradeoff between Qualitative Factors and Lives Saved," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 21(1), pages 117-49, July.
    4. Sunstein, Cass R, 1997. "Bad Deaths," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 259-82, May-June.
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