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Ambiguity aversion in qualitative contexts: A vignette study

Mr. Joshua White
University of Melbourne ~ School of Psychological Sciences
Andrew Perfors
University of Melbourne, Australia ~ School of Psychological Sciences

Most studies of ambiguity aversion — the preference for ‘risk’ (a mathematical specification of probability) over ‘ambiguity’ (immeasurable lack of certainty) when holding utility constant — rely on experimental paradigms involving contrived monetary bets. Thus, the extent to which ambiguity aversion is evident outside of such contexts is largely unknown, particularly in those contexts which cannot easily be reduced to monetary terms. The present work seeks to understand whether ambiguity aversion occurs in a variety of different qualitative domains, such as work, family, love, friendship, exercise, study and health. We presented participants with 24 qualitative vignettes and measured the degree to which participants preferred risk to ambiguity, as well as asking for prior probability estimates for the ambiguous events presented. Ambiguity aversion was observed in response to the vast majority of vignettes, but at different magnitudes. These magnitudinal differences among the vignettes were not predicted by participants’ prior probability estimates of the ambiguous events presented, except in rare circumstances. Our results suggest that ambiguity aversion occurs in a wide variety of qualitative contexts, but to different degrees, and is not generally driven by unfavourable prior probability estimates of ambiguous events.



ambiguity aversion


Mathematical Psychology
Suggestions for more experiments Last updated 2 years ago

These are interesting results! I have a few suggestions for further experiments along these lines. 1. A possible explanation for the differences in ambiguity aversion across scenarios is that the utilities of the outcomes differ. The prospect of someone being interested in you romantically doesn't seem as dramatic as winning or losing $1000 or ...

Michael Smithson 1 comment
Cite this as:

White, J. P., & Perfors, A. F. (2021, February). Ambiguity aversion in qualitative contexts: A vignette study. Paper presented at Australasian Mathematical Psychology Conference 2021. Via