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Are preferences incomplete? An experimental study using flexible choices

  • Eric Danan
  • Anthony Ziegelmeyer

    ()

Completeness, the most commonly assumed axiom in preference theory, has not received much attention from the experimental literature. Indeed, incomplete preferences model a cognitive phenomenon (an agent's inability to compare alternatives), and therefore cannot be directly revealed through choice behavior. Implementing a solution to this methodological issue recently proposed by Danan [A behavioral model of individual welfare, mimeo EUREQua University Paris 1, 2003], we build an experimental protocol involving choices among menus of lotteries, and reveal cognitive preferences' incompleteness by means of the concept of preference for flexibility. Our experimental protocol is designed to assess the descriptive validity of the completeness axiom, as well as to relate its possible violations to lotteries' riskiness. Two-thirds of the subjects whose choices reveal preferences in accordance with the underlying theory exhibit a strictly positive measure of incompleteness. The observed average measure of incompleteness equals approximately 17 percent and it is significantly greater than 10 percent. We do not find a significant relationship between a lottery's riskiness and its cognitive comparability with certain payoffs.

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Paper provided by Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group in its series Papers on Strategic Interaction with number 2004-23.

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Length: 25 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:esi:discus:2004-23
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  1. Estrella, Arturo, 1998. "A New Measure of Fit for Equations with Dichotomous Dependent Variables," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 16(2), pages 198-205, April.
  2. Mas-Colell, Andrew, 1974. "An equilibrium existence theorem without complete or transitive preferences," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3), pages 237-246, December.
  3. Juan Dubra & Fabio Maacheroni & Efe A. Ok, 2001. "Expected Utility Theory without the Completeness Axiom," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1294, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  4. 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.
  5. Ben Greiner, 2004. "The Online Recruitment System ORSEE - A Guide for the Organization of Experiments in Economics," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2003-10, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  6. Sen, Amartya K, 1973. "Behaviour and the Concept of Preference," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 40(159), pages 241-59, August.
  7. Ok, Efe A., 2002. "Utility Representation of an Incomplete Preference Relation," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 104(2), pages 429-449, June.
  8. Luca Rigotti & Chris Shannon=20, 2002. "Uncertainty and Risk in Financial Markets," Game Theory and Information 0201001, EconWPA.
  9. Truman F. Bewley, 1986. "Knightian Decision Theory: Part 1," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 807, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  10. Fon, Vincy & Otani, Yoshihiko, 1979. "Classical welfare theorems with non-transitive and non-complete preferences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 409-418, June.
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