Human Judgements and Decision-Making Preferences Informed by Desirability and The First Attribute Heuristic

  • Joseph Teal

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Historically, judgement and decision-making research has been dominated by normative and descriptive behavioural theories which assumed that people have stable and consistent preferences, informed by computational processing (e.g., Kahneman & Tversky, 1979; Tversky & Kahneman, 1992; von Neumann & Morgenstern, 1947). These assumptions have been challenged by contemporary research, which has revealed that people’s preferences are constructed ‘on the fly’ (e.g., Kusev et al., 2020) using a variety of psychological mechanisms which are contingent on features of the context and task (e.g., Brandstätter et al., 2006; Gigerenzer et al., 1999; Kusev et al., 2020; Payne, Bettman, Coupey & Johnson, 1992; Pedroni et al., 2017; Slovic, 1995; Stewart et al., 2006). For instance, in their Decision by Sampling (DbS) relative rank model, Stewart et al. (2006) argued that people’s decisions among and about choice options are represented by their relative rank within a single attribute, not absolute values. Indeed, Ungemach et al. (2011) provided experimental support for DbS predictions by revealing that participants’ preference for safe and risky gambles were influenced by monetary amounts which were sampled from recent memory. However, in this thesis I argue that Ungemach and colleagues used gambles with negligible and non-desirable prizes, which did not trigger participants’ risk preferences, and prompted sampling from experience. Accordingly, in Experiments 1 and 2, I demonstrated that participants’ preferences for risky gambles are influenced by the desirability of gambles’ prizes (i.e., absolute values). Moreover, in the remaining experiments of this thesis (Experiments 3-7), I explored the first attribute heuristic (a novel psychological mechanism), in which I proposed that people compare choice options binary on the first contextually available attribute and prefer the option with the dominant value on the first contextually available attribute relatively more than the option with the inferior value on the first contextually available attribute. Specifically, I demonstrated that the first attribute heuristic influences participants’ risky choice preferences (Experiments 3 and 4). This result is not anticipated by the leading normative and descriptive behavioural theories and the DbS relative rank model. Furthermore, I found that with non-risky tasks participants’ willingness to pay (WTP) judgements are also influenced by the first attribute heuristic (Experiments 5-7). Once again, this result is not anticipated by the leading behavioural theories of evaluability and WTP judgements (González-Vallejo & Moran, 2001; Hsee, 1996). Therefore, the novel behavioural effect (desirability) and psychological mechanism (first attribute heuristic) discovered in this thesis pose a challenge for existing judgement and decision-making research which has not methodologically, empirically, or theoretically accounted for (or controlled for) them. Overall, this thesis provides theoretical and empirical evidence that people’s preferences are constructed ‘on the fly’, using a variety of decisionmaking mechanisms that are contingent on features of the context and task. Finally, as I discuss in the last chapter, both phenomena have the potential to be explored further within applied settings.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPetko Kusev (Main Supervisor) & Eleanor Davies (Co-Supervisor)

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