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Toward a Theory of Choice: Socially Embedded Preference Construction

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Socio-Economics, Volume 24, p.261- (1995)



We present a boundedly rational model of choice that makes room for individual values and social influences in a process of preference construction. It takes from the subjective expected utility model the notion that people assess their options in terms of expected outcomes, referenced to personal values, but it presumes that individuals assess sharply truncated lists of relevant options, outcomes and values and apply a classification logic rather than a calculative one. Such a model is consistent with the nature of evolved human cognitive abilities. The model treats cognitive heuristics and various forms of social influence as determinants of selection of the truncated lists and it treats moral norms as classification rules activated when certain actions and outcomes become salient. The model has implications for understanding how political rhetoric affects individual and social preferences and how ''hot cognitions'' fit into human choice and for developing improved methods of collective decision making.