Behavioral variability of choices versus structural inconsistency of preferences

Michel Regenwetter, Clintin P. Davis-Stober

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theories of rational choice often make the structural consistency assumption that every decision maker's binary strict preference among choice alternatives forms a strict weak order. Likewise, the very concept of a utility function over lotteries in normative, prescriptive, and descriptive theory is mathematically equivalent to strict weak order preferences over those lotteries, while intransitive heuristic models violate such weak orders. Using new quantitative interdisciplinary methodologies, we dissociate the variability of choices from the structural inconsistency of preferences. We show that laboratory choice behavior among stimuli of a classical "intransitivity" paradigm is, in fact, consistent with variable strict weak order preferences. We find that decision makers act in accordance with a restrictive mathematical model that, for the behavioral sciences, is extraordinarily parsimonious. Our findings suggest that the best place to invest future behavioral decision research is not in the development of new intransitive decision models but rather in the specification of parsimonious models consistent with strict weak order(s), as well as heuristics and other process models that explain why preferences appear to be weakly ordered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)408-416
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012


  • Random utility
  • Rationality
  • Strict weak order
  • Utility of uncertain prospects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Behavioral variability of choices versus structural inconsistency of preferences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this