Debiasing or regularisation? Two interpretations of the concept of ‘true preference’ in behavioural economics

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I reconsider Bleichrodt, Pinto Prades and Wakker’s (BPW) 2001 paper about eliciting utility measures from stated preference surveys. That paper pioneers a method that is now widely used in behavioural economics to correct individuals’ ‘biases’ and to recover their ‘true preferences’. However, BPW propose this method as way of dealing with inconsistent responses to stated preference surveys, in contrast to more recent applications which aim to help individuals to avoid supposed mistakes in their private choices. I argue that the concepts of true preference and bias are empirically ungrounded, but that BPW’s approach can be interpreted as not invoking those concepts. By ‘regularising’ preferences revealed in actual choice, this approach constructs measures of individual welfare that are broadly aligned with actual preferences and consistent with normative standards of rationality that are appropriate for public decision-making. Public decision-makers’ normative judgements are made explicit, rather than being disguised as apparently empirical claims about true preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)765–784
Number of pages20
JournalTheory and Decision
Issue number3-4
Early online date28 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • regularisation
  • true preference
  • behavioural bias
  • behavioural welfare economics
  • stated preference
  • True preference
  • Behavioural welfare economics
  • Behavioural bias
  • Regularisation
  • Stated preference

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