Theory and Decision

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 139-157

First online:

Cycling with Rules of Thumb: An Experimental Test for a new form of Non-Transitive Behaviour

  • Chris StarmerAffiliated withSchool of Economic and Social Studies, University of East Anglia

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This paper tests a novel implication of the original version of prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979): that choices may systematically violate transitivity. Some have interpreted this implication as a weakness, viewing it as an anomaly generated by the ‘editing phase’ of prospect theory which can be rendered redundant by an appropriate re-specification of the preference function. Although there is some existing evidence that transitivity fails descriptively, the particular form of non-transitivity implied by prospect theory is quite distinctive and hence presents an ideal opportunity to expose that theory to test. An experiment is reported which reveals strong evidence of the predicted intransitivity. It is argued that the existence of this new form of non-transitive behaviour presents a fresh theoretical challenge to those seeking descriptively adequate theories of choice behaviour, and a particular challenge to those who seek explanations within the conventional economic paradigm of utility maximisation.

Intransitivity Experimental economics Prospect theory