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Why (and When) are Preferences Convex? Threshold Effects and Uncertain Quality

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  • Smith Trenton G.

    () (Washington State University)

  • Tasnádi Attila

    () (Corvinus University of Budapest)

Abstract

It is often assumed (for analytical convenience, but also in accordance with common intuition) that consumer preferences are convex. In this paper, we consider circumstances under which such preferences are (or are not) optimal. In particular, we investigate a setting in which goods possess some hidden quality with known distribution, and the consumer chooses a bundle of goods that maximizes the probability that he receives some threshold level of this quality. We show that if the threshold is small relative to consumption levels, preferences will tend to be convex; whereas the opposite holds if the threshold is large. Our theory helps explain a broad spectrum of economic behavior (including, in particular, certain common commercial advertising strategies), suggesting that sensitivity to information about thresholds is deeply rooted in human psychology.

Suggested Citation

  • Smith Trenton G. & Tasnádi Attila, 2009. "Why (and When) are Preferences Convex? Threshold Effects and Uncertain Quality," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 9(1), pages 1-24, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:bejtec:v:9:y:2009:i:1:n:3
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    1. Mas-Colell, Andreu & Whinston, Michael D. & Green, Jerry R., 1995. "Microeconomic Theory," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195102680.
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