An experimental investigation of violations of transitivity in choice under uncertainty

  • Michael H. BirnbaumEmail author
  • Ulrich Schmidt


Several models of decision-making imply systematic violations of transitivity of preference. Our experiments explored whether people show patterns of intransitivity predicted by regret theory and majority rule. To distinguish “true” violations from those produced by “error,” a model was fit in which each choice can have a different error rate and each person can have a different pattern of true preferences that need not be transitive. Error rate for a choice is estimated from preference reversals between repeated presentations of that same choice. Our results showed that very few people repeated intransitive patterns. We can retain the hypothesis that transitivity best describes the data of the vast majority of participants.


Choice Decision making Errors Regret theory Transitivity 

JEL classification

C91 D81 



We thank the editor and two referees for very helpful comments. Support was received from National Science Foundation Grants, SES 99–86436, and BCS-0129453.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCSUF H-830MFullertonUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of KielKielGermany
  3. 3.Kiel Institute for the World EconomyKielGermany

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