IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

What Common Ground Exists for Descriptive, Prescriptive, and Normative Utility Theories?

  • R. Duncan Luce

    (Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences and Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine, California 92717)

  • Detlof von Winterfeldt

    (Institute of Safety and Systems Management, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 92651)

Registered author(s):

    Descriptive and normative modeling of decision making under risk and uncertainty have grown apart over the past decade. Psychological models attempt to accommodate the numerous violations of rationality axioms, including independence and transitivity. Meanwhile, normatively oriented decision analysts continue to insist on the applied usefulness of the subjective expected utility (SEU) model. As this gap has widened, two facts have remained largely unobserved. First, most people in real situations attempt to behave in accord with the most basic rationality principles, even though they are likely to fail in more complex situations. Second, the SEU model is likely to provide consistent and rational answers to decision problems within a given problem structure, but may not be invariant across structures. Thus, people may be more rational than the psychological literature gives them credit for, and applications of the SEU model may be susceptible to some violations of invariance principles. This paper attempts to search out the common ground between the normative, descriptive, and prescriptive modeling by exploring three types of axioms concerning structural rationality, preference rationality, and quasi-rationality. Normatively the first two are mandatory and the last, suspect. Descriptively, all have been questioned, but often the inferences involved have confounded preference and structural rationality. We propose a prescriptive view that entails full compliance with preference rationality, modifications of structural rationality, and acceptance of quasi-rationality to the extent of granting a primary role to the status quo and the decomposition of decision problems into gains and losses.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Management Science.

    Volume (Year): 40 (1994)
    Issue (Month): 2 (February)
    Pages: 263-279

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:40:y:1994:i:2:p:263-279
    Contact details of provider: Postal: 7240 Parkway Drive, Suite 300, Hanover, MD 21076 USA
    Phone: +1-443-757-3500
    Fax: 443-757-3515
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:40:y:1994:i:2:p:263-279. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Mirko Janc)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.