Intuitions in conflict: Preference reversals due to switch between sensitization and diminishing sensitivity

Mauricio Palmeira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Sensitization occurs when the passage of time increases the intensity of the experience. Individuals have sensitization intuitions for some unpleasant experiences such as waiting and commuting. In contrast, diminishing sensitivity indicates that the impact of each additional unit of a stimulus decreases as the magnitude of the stimulus increases. In this article, we document a new preference reversal phenomenon due to switch between these two intuitions. When considering unpleasant experiences such as waiting and commuting in a judgment task that asks individuals to consider the impact of an additional unit of time to different baselines, we find that individuals respond in a way consistent with a sensitization intuition. However, when asked to make choices involving trade-offs between longer unpleasant experiences and other attributes, participants respond in a way contrary to their sensitization intuitions and consistent with diminishing sensitivity. We reason that the automatic use of relative differences and diminishing sensitivity occurs because it facilitates trade-offs considerations in a typical choice task. Our hypotheses are supported in a series of four studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124 - 133
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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