Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 52, Issue 1, pp 65–97 | Cite as

Preference reversals: Time and again

  • Carlos Alós-FerrerEmail author
  • Ðura-Georg Granić
  • Johannes Kern
  • Alexander K. Wagner


This paper sheds new light on the preference reversal phenomenon by analyzing decision times in the choice task. In a first experiment, we replicated the standard reversal pattern and found that choices associated with reversals take significantly longer than non-reversals, and non-reversal choices take longer whenever long-shot lotteries are selected. These results can be explained by a combination of noisy lottery evaluations (imprecise preferences) and an overpricing phenomenon associated with the compatibility hypothesis. The first cause explains the existence of reversals, while the second explains the predominance of a particular type thereof. A second experiment showed that the overpricing phenomenon can be shut down, greatly reducing reversals, by using ranking-based, ordinally-framed evaluation tasks. This experiment also disentangled the two determinants of reversals, because imprecise evaluations still deliver testable predictions on decision times even in the absence of the overpricing phenomenon. Strikingly, when unframed ranking tasks were used, decision times in the choice phase were greatly reduced, even though this phase was identical across treatments. This observation is consistent with psychological insights on conflicting decision processes.


Preference reversals Decision times Imprecise preferences Compatibility hypothesis 

JEL Classification

C91 D81 



The authors gratefully acknowledge helpful comments from an anonymous referee, Mónica Capra, Urs Fischbacher, Nikos Georgantzis, Werner Güth, and seminar participants at Ca’ Foscari University (Venice), Emory University (Atlanta), University of Indiana at Bloomington, University of Innsbruck, Universidad Jaume I (Castellón), the TIBER XI conference in Tilburg, the Economic Science Association 2012 conference in Cologne, and the FUR XVI conference in Rotterdam. Wagner also gratefully acknowledges financial support from the German Research Foundation (DFG) through research fellowship WA3559/1-1.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Alós-Ferrer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ðura-Georg Granić
    • 1
    • 2
  • Johannes Kern
    • 1
  • Alexander K. Wagner
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of CologneCologneGermany
  2. 2.Erasmus School of EconomicsErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamNetherlands
  3. 3.Vienna Center for Experimental Economics and Department of EconomicsUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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