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  • Cited by 19
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - The Construction of Preference: An Overview


This book is a collection of papers and research articles on preference construction. The central idea is that in many situations we do not really know what we prefer; we must construct our preferences as the situation arises.

We do, of course, carry a myriad of preferences in our memory. We were born with some of them, such as a fondness for sweets, avoidance of pain, and, perhaps, fear of snakes. Moreover, we spend our lives, particularly in childhood and adolescence, building preferences from our experiences and our wants, needs, and desires. Some of these learned preferences are broad, such as preferring more money to less; others are quite specific, such as liking a particular flavor of ice cream. These well-established preferences are readily available for use.

The need for preference construction arises when our known preferences are insufficient to solve the decision problem that we face. It seems to us that these more difficult situations have one or more of the following three characteristics. First, some of the decision elements may be totally unfamiliar, such as when choosing what to eat from a menu in a foreign language. Second, the choices available to us may present a conflict among our known preferences, so that tradeoffs must be made. For example, suppose you are choosing between two apartments to rent. One has big windows with a great view but a cramped kitchen. The other has no view but a well-arranged, spacious kitchen.

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