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Biology and the Arguments of Utility

  • Luis Rayo

    (London School of Economics)

  • Arthur Robson

    (Simon Fraser University)

Why did evolution not give us a utility function that is offspring alone? Why do we care intrinsically about other outcomes, such as food, and what determines the intensity of such preferences? A common view is that such other outcomes enhance fitness and the intensity of our preference for a given outcome is proportional to its contribution to fitness. We argue that this view is incomplete. Specifically, we show that in the presence of informational asymmetries, the evolutionarily most desirable preference for a given outcome is determined not only by the significance of the outcome, but by the Agent's degree of ignorance regarding its significance. Our model also sheds light on the phenomena of peer effects and prepared learning, whereby some peer attitudes are more influential than others.

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File URL: http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/P/cd/d18b/d1893.pdf
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Paper provided by Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University in its series Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers with number 1893.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1893
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  1. Frank, Robert H, 1987. "If Homo Economicus Could Choose His Own Utility Function, Would He Want One with a Conscience?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 593-604, September.
  2. Chesnais, Jean-Claude, 1992. "The Demographic Transition: Stages, Patterns, and Economic Implications," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198286592, March.
  3. Ken Binmore, 1994. "Game Theory and the Social Contract, Volume 1: Playing Fair," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262023636, June.
  4. Aghion, Philippe & Tirole, Jean, 1997. "Formal and Real Authority in Organizations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(1), pages 1-29, February.
  5. Arthur J. Robson & Balazs Szentes, 2008. "Evolution of Time Preference by Natural Selection: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 1178-88, June.
  6. Becker, Gary S, 1976. "Altruism, Egoism, and Genetic Fitness: Economics and Sociobiology," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 817-26, September.
  7. Dessein, Wouter, 2002. "Authority and Communication in Organizations," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 69(4), pages 811-38, October.
  8. Nick Netzer, 2008. "Evolution of Time Preferences and Attitudes Towards Risk," TWI Research Paper Series 29, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universit�t Konstanz.
  9. Arthur J. Robson, 2001. "Why Would Nature Give Individuals Utility Functions?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(4), pages 900-929, August.
  10. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1991. "Multitask Principal-Agent Analyses: Incentive Contracts, Asset Ownership, and Job Design," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(0), pages 24-52, Special I.
  11. Florian Herold & Nick Netzer, 2010. "Probability Weighting as Evolutionary Second-best," SOI - Working Papers 1005, Socioeconomic Institute - University of Zurich, revised Jan 2011.
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