Choice blindness and the (in)transitivity of preferences: A graph-based method for studying preference structures in real-time

University essay from Lunds universitet/Kognitionsvetenskap

Abstract: The axiom of transitivity states that if a person prefers option A to B and B to C, he must also prefer A to C. This simple axiom is often seen as one of the pillars of rational choice, but whether it should be has created a divide in the research community. Some state that there cannot be rational choice or utility without transitivity and that agents who present intransitive preferences allow themself to be exploited. In contrast, others hold the opposite position, that intransitive preferences not only occur but can, in fact, be rational. This paper aims to study whether intransitive choices occur at such a high degree as is suggested in the literature and whether intransitive choices truly reflect intransitive preferences. Taking inspiration from seminal work in decision-making theory and behavioral economics, an experimental method was developed to measure preference transitivity and preference change over time. In this study, two experiments were conducted via a two-alternative forced-choice (2AFC) task in which participants selected the face they found more attractive. During Experiment 1, intransitive choices could be detected and extracted in real-time while dynamically utilizing choice blindness to study its possible impact on intransitive preferences. During Experiment 2, all stimuli combinations were iterated thrice, which allowed the preference graphs to be analyzed in their entirety. To evaluate the intransitive preferences in relation to those with a transitive pattern, we measured preference strength, choice consistency, and how the preferences evolved over time. Our results indicate that although very few indicators of intransitive choice were found, there was a significant decrease in intransitivity over time. Almost no evidence of repeated intransitive choices was found throughout all experimental phases, and even if we found a moderate level of choice blindness, this did not lead to intransitivity in subsequent choices. However, other possibly exploitable preference structures were found

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