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Are preferences incomplete? An experimental study using flexible choices

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  • Eric Danan
  • Anthony Ziegelmeyer

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Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric Danan & Anthony Ziegelmeyer, 2004. "Are preferences incomplete? An experimental study using flexible choices," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2004-23, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  • Handle: RePEc:esi:discus:2004-23
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    File URL: ftp://papers.econ.mpg.de/esi/discussionpapers/2004-23.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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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    3. Ok, Efe A., 2002. "Utility Representation of an Incomplete Preference Relation," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 104(2), pages 429-449, June.
    4. Dubra, Juan & Maccheroni, Fabio & Ok, Efe A., 2004. "Expected utility theory without the completeness axiom," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 115(1), pages 118-133, March.
    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. Luca Rigotti & Chris Shannon, 2005. "Uncertainty and Risk in Financial Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(1), pages 203-243, January.
    7. Truman F. Bewley, 1986. "Knightian Decision Theory: Part 1," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 807, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mario Biggeri & Nicolò Bellanca, 2013. "Capabilities and Human Dilemmas: How to Cope with Incompleteness," Working Papers - Economics wp2013_08.rdf, Universita' degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di Scienze per l'Economia e l'Impresa.
    2. Ani Guerdjikova & Alexander Zimper, 2008. "Flexibility of choice versus reduction of ambiguity," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 30(3), pages 507-526, April.
    3. Deparis, Stéphane & Mousseau, Vincent & Öztürk, Meltem & Pallier, Christophe & Huron, Caroline, 2012. "When conflict induces the expression of incomplete preferences," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 221(3), pages 593-602.
    4. Tapki, Ipek Gursel, 2007. "Revealed incomplete preferences under status-quo bias," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 53(3), pages 274-283, May.
    5. Houy Nicolas, 2008. "Choice Functions with States of Mind," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 65(1), pages 1-26, August.
    6. Matteo Aria & Nicolò Bellanca, 2012. "The Polytheistic Condition: Incomparable Assets and Special Currency," Working Papers - Economics wp2012_20.rdf, Universita' degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di Scienze per l'Economia e l'Impresa.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Incomplete preferences; Preference for fexibility; Experiments;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory

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