Beck, L.

Why We Need to Talk About Preferences: Economic Experiments and the Where-Question

in , 29.07.2022

Peer Review , Scientific Assessments, Ethics, and Public Policy

When economists perform experiments, they do so typically in one of two traditions: cognitive psychology experiments in the heuristics and biases tradition (H&B-experiments) and experimental economics in the tradition of Vernon Smith. What sets these two traditions apart? In this paper, I offer a novel conceptualization of their pervasive disagreements. Focusing on how each camp approaches preferences, one of the most fundamental concepts in economics, I argue that experimental economics can be reconstructed as holding that the constituents of preferences can be partially located in agents’ environments, while H&B-experiments implicitly assume that the constituents of preferences are entirely located within agents’ bodies. The paper (i) outlines how my reconstruction can account for the disagreement between the two paradigms, (ii) defends the plausibility of this reconstruction, and (iii) highlights its implications for the debate about the nature of preferences in economics.