On the Heritability of Choice, Judgement, and "Irrationality": Genetic Effects on Prudence and Constructive Predispositions

On the Heritability of Choice, Judgement, and "Irrationality": Genetic Effects on Prudence and Constructive Predispositions

By Itamar Simonson, Aner Sela
2009Working Paper No. 2029

Despite the very long history of research on heritable traits, we still know very little about genetic effects on judgment and choice, including consumer decision making. Building on recent advances in epigenetics, we hypothesize that people inherit a general prudence tendency, which affects their predisposition to choose options that vary on the prudence dimension. We use a classic twins study design whereby greater similarity between monozygotic twins than between dizygotic twins indicates a heritable trait. Unlike most prior studies that have focused on one or few characteristics, our study examines a broad range of judgment and choice phenomena simultaneously in order to gain insights into heritable tendencies (representing individual differences) and nonheritable tendencies. Consistent with our prudence hypothesis, we find a significant heritable effect on (a) preferences for compromise (but not perceptually dominating) options, (b) choosing a sure gain over a gamble, (c) preferences for a feasible though dull assignment (in the near distance), (d) maximizing (versus satisficing), and (e) preferences for utilitarian (versus hedonic) options. Conversely, non-prudence problems (e.g., relating to discounting, highlighting, variety) as well as judgment heuristics (availability, representativeness, anchoring) do not appear to reflect heritable individual differences. We discuss the implications of our research with respect to the determinants of preferences, the interpretation of rationality and of BDT effects, the notion of constructive predispositions, and directions for future research regarding the role of genetics in decision making.