Collaborative Research: Measuring Preference Stability and Change: A Panel Study Grant uri icon


  • General SummarySocial scientists and policy makers rely on assumptions about people?s preferences to explain human behavior. Preferences are thought to be stable, measureable and predictive of economic and social success. For example when a policy is designed to get people to save for the future we make assumptions about citizens'' preferences for discounting the future. We have measures that approximate how much people value the future and we rely on those measures to inform policy. The problem is that we do not know whether those measures are either valid or reliable. Do they predict the significant life choices that individuals make? The same problem holds for many measures of preference that are used when making public policy. The aim of this project is to develop measures of preference that will be accurate and simple to use, and that will predict behavior.Technical SummaryHuman preferences are assumed to be stable, measurable and predictive of economic, social and political success. Preferences related to risk, time discounting (or patience), altruism, trust, reciprocity, and competition provide the underpinnings for models of decision-making in arenas as diverse as investment, savings, charitable giving and volunteering, collective decision making, voting and civic engagement, or the choice of a profession. While preferences are key constructs for the social sciences, they have proven difficult to measure. We make use of a natural experiment, random assignment of students to four-year residential colleges, to accomplish three objectives. First, we will calibrate commonly used measures of preference and test for their reliability and validity. Second, we will measure preference stability. Our study allows us to measure preferences over time with the same individuals in an effort to gauge whether they remain stable. Preference stability is a central claim in the social sciences, yet we know little about which preferences are stable. Third, we will map preferences to outcomes. By using a panel of subjects tracked over five years we can identify which measures of preference predict outcomes like civic engagement, competitive behavior, and academic and employment success.

date/time interval

  • 2015 - 2021