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New Paradigms for the Old Question: Challenging the Expectation Rule Held by Risky Decision-Making Theories

  • Lei Zhou (a1) (a2) (a3), Yang-Yang Zhang (a2) (a3) (a4), Shu Li (a1) (a2) (a3) and Zhu-Yuan Liang (a2) (a3)


In risky decision making, whether decision makers follow an expectation rule as hypothesised by mainstream theories is a compelling question. To tackle this question and enrich our knowledge of the underlying mechanism of risky decision making, we developed a series of new experimental paradigms that directly examined the computation processes to systematically investigate the process of risky decision making and explore the boundary condition of expectation rule over the course of a decade. In this article, we introduce these methods and review behavioural, eye-tracking, event-related potential, and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies that employed these methods. Results of these studies consistently showed that decision makers in the single-application condition did not perform the weighting and summing process assumed by the expectation rule. Moreover, decision makers were inclined to adopt a non-compensatory strategy, such as a heuristic one, in risky decision making. Furthermore, results indicated that the expectation rule was only applicable for conditions that involved decisions applied to numerous events (multiple applications) or to people (everyone). The findings indicated that using an index based on expected value to prescribe human risk preferences appears to be an artificial or false index of risk preference, and emphasised a new methodological direction for risky decision-making research.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Drs Shu Li or Zhu-Yuan Liang, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China. E-mail:;


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