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Payment for Pain: Differences between Hypothetical and Real Preferences

Authors: J. Trarbach, S. Schosser, B. Vogt


Decision-makers tend to prefer the first alternative over subsequent alternatives which is called the primacy effect. To reliably measure this effect, we conducted an experiment with real consequences for preference statements. Therefore, we elicit preferences of subjects using a rating scale, i.e. hypothetical preferences, and willingness to pay, i.e. real preferences, for two sequences of pain. Within these sequences, both overall intensity and duration of pain are identical. Hence, a rational decision-maker should be indifferent, whereas the primacy effect predicts a stronger preference for the first sequence. What we see is a primacy effect only for hypothetical preferences. This effect vanishes for real preferences.

Keywords: Decision making, primacy effect, real incentives, willingness to pay.

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