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The Price of Flexibility: Towards a Theory of Thinking Aversion


  • Ortoleva, Pietro


The goal of this paper is to model an agent who dislikes large choice sets because of the "cost of thinking" involved in choosing from them. We take as a primitive a preference relation over lotteries of menus and impose novel axioms that allow us to separately identify the genuine preference over the content of menus, and the cost of choosing from them. Using this, we formally define the notion of thinking aversion, much in line with the definitions of risk or ambiguity aversion. We represent such preference as the difference between a monotone and affine evaluation of the content of the set and an anticipated thinking cost function that assigns to each set a thinking cost. We further extend this characterization to the case of monotonicity of the genuine rank and introduce a measure of comparative thinking aversion. Finally, we propose behavioral axioms that guarantee that the cost of thinking can be represented as the sum of the cost to find the optimal choice in a set and the cost to find out which is the optimal choice.

Suggested Citation

  • Ortoleva, Pietro, 2008. "The Price of Flexibility: Towards a Theory of Thinking Aversion," MPRA Paper 12242, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:12242

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    1. Kenan Kalaycı & Marta Serra-Garcia, 2016. "Complexity and biases," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 19(1), pages 31-50, March.
    2. Le Yaouanq, Yves, 2015. "Anticipating Preference Reversal"," TSE Working Papers 15-585, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    3. Elena Reutskaja & Rosemarie Nagel & Colin F. Camerer & Antonio Rangel, 2011. "Search Dynamics in Consumer Choice under Time Pressure: An Eye-Tracking Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 900-926, April.
    4. Manzini, Paola & Mariotti, Marco, 2013. "Imperfect Attention and Menu Evaluations," SIRE Discussion Papers 2013-98, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
    5. Gerasimou, Georgios & Papi, Mauro, 2015. "Oligopolistic Competition with Choice-Overloaded Consumers," MPRA Paper 68509, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Gorno, Leandro, 2016. "Additive representation for preferences over menus in finite choice settings," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 41-47.
    7. Frick, Mira, 2016. "Monotone threshold representations," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 11(3), September.
    8. Sarver, Todd & Ergin, Haluk, 2015. "Hidden actions and preferences for timing of resolution of uncertainty," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 10(2), May.
    9. Eliaz, Kfir & Schotter, Andrew, 2010. "Paying for confidence: An experimental study of the demand for non-instrumental information," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 304-324, November.
    10. Riella, Gil, 2013. "Preference for Flexibility and Dynamic Consistency," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 148(6), pages 2467-2482.
    11. Fabrice Le Lec & Marianne Lumeau & Benoît Tarroux, 2016. "Choice or information overload ?," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 2016-07, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
    12. Caplin, Andrew & Dean, Mark, 2011. "Search, choice, and revealed preference," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 6(1), January.
    13. Eric Danan & Ani Guerdjikova & Alexander Zimper, 2012. "Indecisiveness aversion and preference for commitment," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 72(1), pages 1-13, January.
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    15. Casaburi, Lorenzo & Macchiavello, Rocco, 2017. "Firm and Market Response to Saving Constraints: Evidence from the Kenyan Dairy Industry," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 322, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    16. David Freeman, 2013. "Revealed Preference Foundations of Expectations-Based Reference-Dependence," Discussion Papers dp13-10, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
    17. Brocas, Isabelle & Camerer, Colin & Carrillo, Juan D & Wang, Stephanie W., 2009. "Measuring attention and strategic behavior in games with private information," CEPR Discussion Papers 7529, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    18. Jonathan Levav & Mark Heitmann & Andreas Herrmann & Sheena S. Iyengar, 2010. "Order in Product Customization Decisions: Evidence from Field Experiments," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(2), pages 274-299, April.

    More about this item


    Cost of Thinking; Contemplation Cost; Bounded Rationality; Preference Over Menus; Preference for Flexibility; Choice overload;

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D84 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Expectations; Speculations
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness

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