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February 23, 2011


Jon B.

I think utility lacks a time dimension, and so does not model well choices such as consuming large amounts of chocolate or lager, which might seem a good idea at the time, but a little later I may regret.

But it doesn't necessarily follow that free choice makes them worse off than the alternatives. An alternative, say, of having a panel of experts deciding how much lager, chocolate, Jeremy Kyle, or Question Time you are allowed to consume may well result in lower short term AND longer term utility. As may a purely random allocation by lottery of permits to consume / watch the above.

Choice may turn out to be the least worst way of maximising utility.


At risk of providing the standard economists' response, are we looking for utility in the wrong place? Could viewers not enjoy, in some way, the annoyance and perhaps superiority they feel watching these shows?
Baselessly extrapolating from personal anecdote, I like to sometimes listen to Classic FM, despite the fact I virtually detest it - a narrow range of music, inept presenters, incessant plugs for the station and it's offshoots etc. But I do this specifically in order to wind me up; I rant and rave at the car radio about how crap the presenters are, how everything's "lovely" etc etc. I enjoy it.
And so could people be watching programmes with shouty idiots in order to make themselves feel better and reassured that they're not shouty idiots themselves; that being "dissatisfied" with the mouthing off of Nigel Farage or whomever makes them feel clever and superior?


Look at that - that idiot commenter's phone autocompleted an "its" as "it's". What a retard! That sort of thing really dissatisfies me. Might keep checking this blog to see if anyone spots it and rips him to shreds.


I agree with Andrew. If anything, this experiment simply shows - again - that there is a difference between people's stated and revealed preferences.

If someone says they disklike something, but keep doing it anyway, it stands to reason that they prefer doing it to not doing it.

Adam Bell

I think Neil and Andrew have you there, Chris. If you want to have a crack at revealed preferences, you might want to consider an alternate route, such as revealed preferences merely being a snapshot of individual judgement at a given moment, and not able to accommodate the development of that judgement and decision-making over time.


@ Adam - surely it's the other way round. In one-off choices, revealed preference might well not show subsequent utility, because of imperfect info or irrationality. But over time, folk learn and so choice and utility are more likely to coincide.
@ Andrew, Neil - how do you explain the Frey finding, that people who watch lots of TV have lower subjective well-being?
@ Neil - the claim that choices reveal preferences is a tautology. The issue is whether preferences maximize utility.


Obvious conclusion: people who are discovered watching Jeremy Kyle are not so likely to admit they found it enjoyable, but instead tell the researcher that it 'made them angry, it was so bad'.

I find the Jeremy Kyle show to be a human form of bear baiting, and utterly distasteful. I therefore do not watch it. If I did watch it and then declared that 'I didn't like it really' I'd be a liar.

Tom Addison

I think I fit into that analysis, I hate both shows a lot (and hence never watch them), although for slightly different reasons.

As Jim has said, Jeremy Kyle is human bear baiting (human baiting I guess), I never watch it, and if it's on and I can't change the channel I start to break things. I'm sure there's some sort of snobbery in me about this, but I do try to reassure myself that the people on the show are a very small minority.

Question Time, just like "debates" on the radio (such as on five live and radio 4), annoys me because it's just too many people with massive ego's interrupting and talking over one another. And a lot of the time they're just not that well informed either (at least not as informed as I'd expect for someone who's given the platform to voice their opinion on national television). If they interrupt too much, I change over, simple as.

Question Time also has those retarded seals, sorry, audience members, who clap incessantly whenver someone comes out with a lazy cliché like "illegal war" or "greedy bankers". Again, if it happens more than once, boom, Sky Sports News.

But yes, if it's something like Newsnight or Intelligence Squared, I never really feel that urge to launch the remote at something. Even if United are having a shocker I don't get as wound up as Question Time makes me! But I certainly don't purposefully watch shows that annoy me, I'd say that people who watch shows that "annoy them" are just lying.


@Chris: People who watch loads of TV develop, over time, a feeling either of guilt (that they're wasting their lives) or of ennui. However, this is a long-term effect and completely unrelated to the effect you're describing in the Milano-Bicocca experiment.

The relative values of future and present utility in decision-making is a really interesting subject, and you should definitely cover it in an article. But this particular experiment has nothing to say on the subject.

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