Choice certainty and deliberative thinking in discrete choice experiments: A theoretical and empirical investigation

Dean A. Regier, Jonathan Sicsic (Corresponding Author), Verity Watson

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Resource allocation decisions require information about individuals' preferences for goods and services. Survey based stated preference methods, such as discrete choice experiments (DCEs), are used to elicit preferences for non-market goods. A critique of stated preference research is that respondents to hypothetical surveys may not provide careful and thoughtful responses that reveal rational preferences. Choice certainty has been used to measure survey respondents' task engagement. Researchers assume that respondents who are certain about their choices provide deliberative responses. In the case of DCE, we argue that the variability of choice certainty is also important. We present a novel framework to identify thoughtful / deliberative respondents. The framework combines respondents’ certainty with their variability in certainty across a set of choice tasks. We test our framework empirically using data from two case studies. We find respondents with higher mean certainty and variability (i) seldom use decision heuristics, (ii) are more likely to have monotonic preferences, (iii) have longer response times, (iv) make choices that have higher interval validity, and (v) have higher choice consistency. We discuss the relevance of alternative ex-post calibration strategies with a view to improve the precision and accuracy of DCE-based welfare estimates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-255
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Early online date14 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

The Canadian Centre for Applied Research in Cancer Control (ARCC) is funded by the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute (2015-703549). This paper developed from discussions between Verity Watson and Dean Regier that were funded by the Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies, University of British Columbia. Jonathan Sicsic acknowledges funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under REA grant agreement PCOFUND-GA-2013-609102, through the PRESTIGE programme coordinated by Campus France. He also benefited for this research from grants provided by the French National Institute for Cancer (Coordinator: Dr Nora Moumjid). The Health Economics Research Unit is funded by the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Care Directorates. The usual disclaimer applies. We thank Aki Tsuchiya, Nicolas Krucien, Thijs Dekker, and all participants to the 5th workshop on non-market valuation for useful comments on previous drafts of the paper.


  • Choice certainty
  • Discrete choice experiments
  • Hypothetical bias
  • Information processing
  • Stated preferences
  • Survey engagement


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