Theory-Experimental Seminar

Michel Regenwetter

University of Illinois


Sala Vicens Vives – 14:00-15:00


Chaotic responses to Covid-19, political polarization, pervasive misinformation, and social unrest raise the question whether some or many individuals exercise irrational moral judgment. We provide the first mathematically correct direct test for transitivity of moral preferences. Transitivity is conceptually, mathematically, and statistically difficult to evaluate empirically. We tested three parsimonious, order-constrained, probabilistic characterizations of transitive preference. Among 28 individuals, everyone satisfied the weak utility model, according to which an individual’s choices are noisy reflections of a single underlying transitive preference. Tightening the bounds on error rates in noisy responses yielded a poorly performing model, thus rejecting the notion that the individual makes choices that are highly consistent with a single transitive preference. Everyone obeyed the general random utility hypothesis, according to which individuals’ choices reveal uncertain, but transitive, moral preferences. Bayesian model selection favored such probabilistic transitive preferences, hence also the equivalent random utility hypothesis. The talk will also sketch some of the conceptual, mathematical, and statistically challenges, and their solutions, with testing transitivity of preference in other empirical paradigms.

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