Thursday, August 2, 2012

How do you want your pain?

Suppose you have some illness and can choose two treatments. With the first, pain gradually increases. With the second, pain is at its peak initially then decreases. Which one would you choose? If your are discounting future utility, I guess you would want to have pain later. But knowing that things will only get worse can be quite depressing. So it is not obvious what I would choose, and I think that choice would be difficult for many people.

Eike Kroll, Judith Trarbach and Bodo Vogt actually executed an experiment with such a choice, including real consequences. Specifically, people would have to put their hands in water bowls at successive temperatures of 12C, 8C, and 4C (or the reverse order) for one minute in each. Before that, they are asked to rate on a scale their preferences among sequences along with a willingness to pay to avoid the worse one. A clear majority of subjects chose the improving sequence, with a two-point spread for the median displeasure points, which is considered significant in behavioral research. As for the willingness to pay, the median is zero (and possible increments where tiny 20 cents). Thus: the displeasure point scale is rubbish, and people may consider more than discounting, but we do not really know.

No comments: