Endogenous Formation of Preferences: Choices Systematically Change Willingness-to-Pay for Goods

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Standard decision theory assumes that choices result from stable preferences. This position has been challenged by claims that the act of choosing between goods may alter preferences. To test this claim, we investigated in three experiments whether choices between equally valued snack food items can systematically shape preferences. We directly assessed changes in participants’ willingness-to-pay for these items, some of which could be bought at an auction after the experiment, while others could not. We found that chosen items were valued higher, and nonchosen items were valued lower; yet this postdecisional refinement of preferences was only observed for choices and valuations that were relevant, that is, incentive-compatible for items that were available for consumption. Supplementary analyses revealed that incentive-incompatible elicitations of preferences were unreliable and may have masked potential effects of choices on preferences. In conclusion, we propose that preferences can change endogenously, that is, in the absence of external feedback or information, but rather as a function of previous relevant choices.

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