Do people disagree with themselves?

It is commonly accepted that people disagree with one another. In this article, my colleagues and I present results that suggest people may disagree with themselves. Using eight decision-making contexts ranging in familiarity, complexity, and risk, we show that a nationally representative sample (n = 1874) of respondents made choices that were inconsistent across two complimentary methods of eliciting preferences. We show that on average individuals demonstrate higher levels of internal consistency, or alignment between their choices and their stated values and concerns, when decisions are ‘easy’, or simple, familiar, and have little risk. However, this consistency declines when people are confronted with difficult choices involving unfamiliar, complex contexts involving high risk. Moreover, providing additional and salient contextual information about alternatives, such as brand names, model information, or the specific components of a risk mitigation strategy, results in significantly lower levels of consistency when compared to situations where this information is withheld. This finding suggests that people rely on simplifying heuristics when making easy decisions; however, this kind of information is less influential when choices are difficult. Importantly, we show that higher levels of education also have a significant and positive association with the consistency of people’s choices.

Douglas L. Bessette, Robyn S. Wilson & Joseph L. Arvai (2019) Do people disagree with themselves? Exploring the internal consistency of complex, unfamiliar, and risky decisions, Journal of Risk Research, DOI: 10.1080/13669877.2019.1569107

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