Ambiguity attitudes in qualitative contexts: The role of prior beliefs


Most studies of ambiguity aversion rely on experimental paradigms involving monetary bets. Thus, the extent to which ambiguity aversion occurs outside of such contexts is much less understood, particularly when the situation cannot easily be reduced to numerical terms. The present work seeks to understand whether people prefer to avoid ambiguous decisions in a variety of different qualitative domains (e.g., work, family, love, friendship, exercise, study, and health), and, if so, to determine the role played by prior beliefs in those domains. Across three studies, we presented participants with 24 vignettes and measured the degree to which they preferred risk to ambiguity in each. We also asked them for their prior probability estimates about the likely outcomes in the ambiguous events. Ambiguity aversion was observed in the vast majority of vignettes, but at different magnitudes. It was predicted by whether the vignette involved gain or loss as well as by people’s prior beliefs; however, the heterogeneity between people meant that the role of prior beliefs was only evident in an individual-level analysis (i.e., not at the group level). Our results suggest that the desire to avoid ambiguity occurs in a wide variety of qualitative contexts but to different degrees for different people and may be partially driven by unfavorable prior estimates of the likely outcomes of the ambiguous events.

Journal of Behavioural Decision Making 36(1): e2292