The Effect Of Clarification On Intransitive Preferences

By James R. Miller III
1971| Working Paper No. 2

Suppose an individual is asked to express preferences among several items. Suppose these items are presented in a sequence of pair-wise comparisons. Unless a uniform, set of item attributes is clearly designated in advance as the relevant preference criteria, each pair-wise comparison may invoke its own criteria. Non-uniform criteria may therefore be applied across comparisons. When this occurs, preference patterns are likely to became intransitive. The incidence of intransitivity increases as comparisons are made less uniformly. However, clarifying certain aspects of the choice context, especially the criteria themselves, renders comparisons more uniform. This induces selective and predictable reversals in pair-wise preferences which, in turn, lead to systematic reductions in intransitivity. Therefore, clarification reduces intransitivity. Both the theoretical and the practical implications of this finding are discussed.