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Content archived on 2024-05-30

Foundations of Economic Preferences


Preferences are a representation of individuals’ behavioral goals. Assumptions about individual preferences are a decisive component of almost all economic models. In fact, any social science that aims at explaining both individual behaviors and aggregate outcomes in terms of individuals’ goals and constraints has to make assumptions about preferences. Knowledge about preferences is thus key for the ability to predict the behavior of individuals and groups, and for assessing the welfare consequences of different policies. There are, however, still large empirical gaps in our knowledge about preferences. Extremely little is known about the social, economic and biological factors that causally shape them. There is also limited knowledge about how preferences are distributed in society, how they relate to demographic and socio-economic factors, how time, risk and social preferences are interrelated, and the extent to which preferences are stable across time and strategic situations. Therefore, we propose to study these foundational questions by applying economic and neuroeconomic tools that enable us to measure structural preference parameters and the social and biological forces that shape them. In particular, we will study the four following topics. (1) The distribution and stability of time, risk and social preference parameters based on nationally representative behavioral experiments. (2) The relationship between time, risk and social preferences. (3) The causal impact of the social environment on preferences. (4) The neural and genetic determinants of preferences. The proposed research program promises to yield important insights into the causal determinants, the structure and the relationships between time, risk and social preferences. This will inform and constrain theoretical models and policy conclusions based on such models.

Fields of science

Call for proposal

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Host institution

EU contribution
€ 2 494 759,00
8006 Zurich

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Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera Zürich Zürich
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Principal investigator
Ernst Fehr (Prof.)
Administrative Contact
Ernst Fehr (Prof.)
Total cost
No data

Beneficiaries (1)