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Psychol Rev. 2006 Apr;113(2):409-32.

The priority heuristic: making choices without trade-offs.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Altenbergerstrasse 69, 4040 Linz, Austria.


Bernoulli's framework of expected utility serves as a model for various psychological processes, including motivation, moral sense, attitudes, and decision making. To account for evidence at variance with expected utility, the authors generalize the framework of fast and frugal heuristics from inferences to preferences. The priority heuristic predicts (a) the Allais paradox, (b) risk aversion for gains if probabilities are high, (c) risk seeking for gains if probabilities are low (e.g., lottery tickets), (d) risk aversion for losses if probabilities are low (e.g., buying insurance), (e) risk seeking for losses if probabilities are high, (f) the certainty effect, (g) the possibility effect, and (h) intransitivities. The authors test how accurately the heuristic predicts people's choices, compared with previously proposed heuristics and 3 modifications of expected utility theory: security-potential/aspiration theory, transfer-of-attention-exchange model, and cumulative prospect theory.

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