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Imprecision as an Account of the Preference Reversal Phenomenon


  • David J. Butler
  • Graham C. Loomes


Many individuals' choices and valuations involve a degree of uncertainty/imprecision. This paper reports an experiment designed to obtain some measure of imprecision and to examine the extent to which it can explain preference reversals of two opposite forms, one of which appears not to have been reported previously. The model of imprecision we examine not only predicts both patterns but also provides an account of earlier results that are otherwise not well explained. The results suggest that any successful descriptive theory of choice and valuation will need to allow in some way for the imprecision surrounding people's decisions. (JEL C91, D11, D81)

Suggested Citation

  • David J. Butler & Graham C. Loomes, 2007. "Imprecision as an Account of the Preference Reversal Phenomenon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 277-297, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:97:y:2007:i:1:p:277-297 Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.97.1.277

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Loomes, Graham & Moffatt, Peter G & Sugden, Robert, 2002. "A Microeconometric Test of Alternative Stochastic Theories of Risky Choice," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 103-130, March.
    2. Seidl, Christian, 2002. " Preference Reversal," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 16(5), pages 621-655, December.
    3. Loomes, Graham & Sugden, Robert, 1998. "Testing Different Stochastic Specifications of Risky Choice," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(260), pages 581-598, November.
    4. David E. Bell, 1982. "Regret in Decision Making under Uncertainty," Operations Research, INFORMS, vol. 30(5), pages 961-981, October.
    5. Rubinstein, Ariel, 1988. "Similarity and decision-making under risk (is there a utility theory resolution to the Allais paradox?)," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 145-153, October.
    6. Robin P. Cubitt & Alistair Munro & Chris Starmer, 2004. "Testing explanations of preference reversal," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 709-726, July.
    7. Hey, John D & Orme, Chris, 1994. "Investigating Generalizations of Expected Utility Theory Using Experimental Data," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(6), pages 1291-1326, November.
    8. Dubourg, W R & Jones-Lee, M W & Loomes, Graham, 1997. "Imprecise Preferences and Survey Design in Contingent Valuation," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 64(256), pages 681-702, November.
    9. Eliaz, Kfir & Ok, Efe A., 2006. "Indifference or indecisiveness? Choice-theoretic foundations of incomplete preferences," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 61-86, July.
    10. Ian J. Bateman & Richard T. Carson & Brett Day & Michael Hanemann & Nick Hanley & Tannis Hett & Michael Jones-Lee & Graham Loomes, 2002. "Economic Valuation with Stated Preference Techniques," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 2639.
    11. Graham Loomes, 2005. "Modelling the Stochastic Component of Behaviour in Experiments: Some Issues for the Interpretation of Data," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 8(4), pages 301-323, December.
    12. Ulrich Schmidt & John D. Hey, 2004. "Are Preference Reversals Errors? An Experimental Investigation," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 29(3), pages 207-218, December.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty


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