Towards a Social Psychology of Stated Preferences

EPA Grant Number: R824693
Title: Towards a Social Psychology of Stated Preferences
Investigators: Dietz, Thomas , Guagnano, Gregory A.
Current Investigators: Dietz, Thomas
Institution: George Mason University , National Research Council
Current Institution: George Mason University
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: October 1, 1995 through December 31, 1999
Project Amount: $180,000
RFA: Valuation and Environmental Policy (1995) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Justice


The proposed research would explore the social psychology of expressed willingness to pay (WTP) for environmental improvements in order to gain understanding of question-wording effects, examine whether structured value elicitation techniques can mitigate them, and explore the comparative advantages of the contingent valuation method (CVM) and more iterative and discursive methods of assessing social value. Sensitivity of CVM to question wording (e.g., embedding effects) is troublesome if WTP is presumed to directly reflect underlying preferences, but from the standpoint of a constructive theory of preferences and from knowledge gained from surveying other subjective phenomena, such phenomena are normal. They can be interpreted as reflecting framing or focus effects, in which wording influences WTP by altering the cognitive shortcuts individuals use to construct their responses. We propose two experiments 10 examine framing effects, analyze respondents' cognitive processes to determine whether cognitive focusing mediates the effects, and explore ways KI minimize focus effects in eliciting social value.


The first study would experimentally manipulate two factors likely to influence responses. The vehicle of payment (tax, price, contribution, and no specified vehicle), and the kind and number of effects attributed to the policy in question. It would assess the hypothesis that different question wordings focus respondents' attention on different values or beliefs, thus (a) changing stated WTP and (b) making WTP dependent on different social-psychological factors that in turn depend on question wording.

A second study would look for direct evidence of focus effects by examining talk-through protocols of respondents stated WTP, to see how many and what kinds of considerations enter into responses and how those considerations vary as a function of question wording. It would also compare standard CVM procedures with a protocol that precedes the WTP questions with a structured value elicitation intended to minimize focus effects, and with value elicitations done in group dialogue contexts that simulate pre-referendum discussions or the deliberations of a citizens advisory committee.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 4 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 3 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

taxes, willingness to pay, contingent valuation method, economics, survey., RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, decision-making, Economics & Decision Making, Social Science, contingent valuation, social psychology, surveys, social impact analysis, valuation, decision analysis, incentives, preference formation, taxes, embedding effects, psychological attitudes, stated preference, willingness to pay

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1996
  • 1997 Progress Report
  • 1998
  • 1999
  • Final Report