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The Use of Hypothetical Baselines in Stated Preference Surveys


  • Dale Whittington

    () (Department of Environmental Sciences & Engineering, Rosenau CB#7631, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA, and the Manchester Business School, UK)

  • Vic Adamowicz

    () (Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)


Researchers using stated preference (SP) techniques have increasingly come to rely on what we call ?hypothetical baselines.? By the term ?hypothetical baseline,? we mean that respondents are provided with a description of a current state or baseline, but that this baseline is intentionally not the actual state of environmental quality, health or other baseline condition. Respondents are asked to disregard their existing status quo conditions for a new baseline. The SP researcher then poses a valuation question or choice task that is contingent not on the existing status quo state of the world, but rather the state of the world described in this new hypothetical baseline. In this paper we argue that SP researchers have often used hypothetical baselines without carefully considering the cognitive challenges this poses for respondents or the difficulties this practice creates for advising policy makers. We discuss the implications of hypothetical baselines on valuation and policy analysis, using arguments from the behavioral economics literature as well as from standard theory.

Suggested Citation

  • Dale Whittington & Vic Adamowicz, 2010. "The Use of Hypothetical Baselines in Stated Preference Surveys," EEPSEA Special and Technical Paper sp201009s1, Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA), revised Sep 2010.
  • Handle: RePEc:eep:tpaper:sp201009s1

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jürgen Meyerhoff & Ulf Liebe, 2009. "Status Quo Effect in Choice Experiments: Empirical Evidence on Attitudes and Choice Task Complexity," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 85(3), pages 515-528.
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    3. Francisco Alpizar & Fredrik Carlsson & Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2008. "Does context matter more for hypothetical than for actual contributions? Evidence from a natural field experiment," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 11(3), pages 299-314, September.
    4. W. Viscusi & Joel Huber & Jason Bell, 2008. "The Economic Value of Water Quality," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 41(2), pages 169-187, October.
    5. Adamowicz, Wiktor L. & Boxall, Peter C. & Williams, Michael & Louviere, Jordan, 1995. "Stated Preference Approaches for Measuring Passive Use Values: Choice Experiments versus Contingent Valuation," Staff Paper Series 24126, University of Alberta, Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology.
    6. Barton, David N. & Bergland, Olvar, 2010. "Valuing irrigation water using a choice experiment: an ‘individual status quo’ modelling of farm specific water scarcity," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 15(03), pages 321-340, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jürgen Meyerhoff & Morten Mørkbak & Søren Olsen, 2014. "A Meta-study Investigating the Sources of Protest Behaviour in Stated Preference Surveys," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 58(1), pages 35-57, May.

    More about this item


    stated preference survey;

    JEL classification:

    • Q51 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Valuation of Environmental Effects
    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth

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