How actions create--not just reveal--preferences

Trends Cogn Sci. 2008 Jan;12(1):13-6. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2007.10.008. Epub 2007 Dec 11.


The neo-classical economics view that behavior is driven by - and reflective of - hedonic utility is challenged by psychologists' demonstrations of cases in which actions do not merely reveal preferences but rather create them. In this view, preferences are frequently constructed in the moment and are susceptible to fleeting situational factors; problematically, individuals are insensitive to the impact of such factors on their behavior, misattributing utility caused by these irrelevant factors to stable underlying preferences. Consequently, subsequent behavior might reflect not hedonic utility but rather this erroneously imputed utility that lingers in memory. Here we review the roles of these streams of utility in shaping preferences, and discuss how neuroimaging offers unique possibilities for disentangling their independent contributions to behavior.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Psychological Theory*