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Study finds 'law-like' patterns in human preference behavior
Date:5/26/2010

ormally colored, and one of raw, unprepared food on two different days. For one viewing, participants were hungry, for the other, they had just eaten. Responses were measured by whether participants increased, decreased, or did nothing to change how long they viewed particular images.

All three experiments showed the same patterns in both groups and individuals, patterns that contained a set of features that varied between people. These patterns describe how groups and individuals make tradeoffs between approaching and avoiding items; how value is attributed to objects, which is linked assessments of other objects of the same type; and how individuals set limits to how strongly they will seek or avoid objects.

The authors note that these patterns incorporate aspects of three existing theories in reward/aversion: prospect theory, which includes the fact that people are more strongly motivated to avoid negative outcomes than to attain positive outcomes; the matching law, which describes how the rates of response to multiple stimuli are proportional to the amount of reward attributed to each stimulus; and alliesthesia, which notes that the value placed on something depends on whether it is perceived to be scarce for example, hungry people place greater value on food than do those who have just eaten.

One of the key differences between relative preference theory (RPT) and earlier theories is that RPT evaluates preferences relating to the intrinsic value of items to an individual, rather than relating preferences to values set by external forces such as how the overall economy sets the value of the dollar. The patterns observed in this study are similar at the individual and group levels a relationship known as "scaling."

"In order for behavioral patterns to be considered law-like, they need to be described mathematically, recur in response to many types of stimuli, remain stable in the face of statistical noise, and poten
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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