Transitive in Our Preferences, But Transitive in Different Ways: An Analysis of Choice Variability

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Numerous empirical studies have examined the question of whether transitivity of preference is a viable axiom of human decision making, but they arrive at different conclusions depending on how they model choice variability. To bring some consistency to these seemingly conflicting results from the literature, this article moves beyond the binary question of whether or not transitivity holds, asking instead: In what way does transitivity hold (or not hold) stochastically, and how robust is (in)transitive preference at the individual level? To answer these questions, we reanalyze data from 7 past experiments, using Bayesian model selection to place the major models of stochastic (in)transitivity in direct competition, and also carry out a new experiment examining transitivity under direct time pressure constraints. We find that a majority of individuals satisfy transitivity, but according to different stochastic specifications (i.e., models of choice variability), and that individuals are largely stable in their transitivity “types” across decision making environments. Thus, transitivity of preference, as well as the particular type of individual choice variability associated with it, appear to be robust properties at the individual level.

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