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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Values and preferences: defining preference construction

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Extensive research in the values and preferences literature suggests that preferences are sensitive to context and calculated at the time of choice. This has led to the view that preferences are constructed. Recent work calls for a better understanding of when preferences are constructed and when they are not. We contend that the answer to this question depends on the meaning of the term constructed. Constructed can mean that a preference changes across contexts. If construction is synonymous with context sensitivity, we contend that preferences are always constructed because context influences nearly every aspect of the judgment and choice process. As a motivating example, we show that preferences are influenced by goals and goals are highly context sensitive. Constructed, however, can mean instead that a preference is calculated or formulated during the judgment and choice process. If construction is synonymous with calculation, we contend that many preferences are calculated and the more important question is to what degree preferences are calculated. We review the literature that shows that the degree to which decision makers calculate preferences is influenced by goals, cognitive constraints, and experience. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 193–205 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.98

Figure 1.

Illustration of how perception is sensitive to context. The middle figure is typically perceived to be ‘B’ when it appears between other letters in the top row. However, the same figure is typically perceived to be ‘13’ when it appears between other numbers in the bottom row (adapted from Kahneman19).

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