The instability of value

Nick Chater and Ivo Vlaev

in Decision Making, Affect, and Learning

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199600434
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191725623 | DOI:

Series: Attention and Performance

The instability of value

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Rational theories of decision making under risk typically assume that outcomes can be associated, either directly or implicitly, with utilities; and that decision makers choose options which exhibit the greatest utility. That is, the different choice options are assigned a value, independent of comparison with each other, and higher value options are chosen preferentially. This chapter argues for a local comparative theory of choice, and against value-based approaches (whether value or utility is interpreted psychologically or instrumentally), in the light of current psychological and neuroscientific data. Local comparison, not valuation, is a cognitively fundamental operation. Options can be compared with respect to each other, in the light of a specific local choice context; but not valued individually, on an internal utility scale. Section 4.1 explores what can be learned from related debates in psychophysics: specifically, it considers the debate concerning the existence of internal scales for perceptual magnitudes. Section 4.2 outlines a specific theory of choice. Sections 4.3 and 4.4 briefly consider the behavioural and neuroscientific evidence for comparative vs. value-based accounts. Section 4.5 looks at the relevance of these issues for wider issues in neuroscience, psychology, economics, and ethics.

Keywords: decision making; risk; choice theory; local comparative theory; valuation

Chapter.  10653 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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