Choice-induced preference change and the free-choice paradigm: A clarification

Carlos Alós-Ferrer, Fei Shi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Positive spreading of ratings or rankings in the classical free-choice paradigm is commonly taken to indicate choiceinduced change in preferences and has motivated influential theories as cognitive dissonance theory and self-perception theory. Chen and Risen (2010) argued by means of a mathematical proof that positive spreading is merely a statistical consequence of a flawed design. However, positive spreading has also been observed in blind choice and other designs where the alleged flaw should be absent. We show that the result in Chen and Risen (2010) is mathematically incorrect, although it can be recovered in a particular case. Specifically, we present a formal model of decision making that satisfies all assumptions in that article but implies that spreading need not be positive in the absence of choice-induced preference change. Hence, although the free-choice paradigm is flawed, the present research shows that reasonable models of human behavior need not predict consistent positive spreading. As a consequence, taken as a whole, previous experimental results remain informative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-49
Number of pages16
JournalJudgment and Decision Making
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Decision making
  • Free-choice paradigm
  • Preferences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Applied Psychology
  • Economics and Econometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'Choice-induced preference change and the free-choice paradigm: A clarification'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this