Economic decision-making compared with an equivalent motor task

Shih Wei Wu*, Mauricio R. Delgado, Laurence T. Maloney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


There is considerable evidence that human economic decisionmaking deviates from the predictions of expected utility theory (EUT) and that human performance conforms to EUT in many perceptual and motor decision tasks. It is possible that these results reflect a real difference in decision-making in the 2 domains but it is also possible that the observed discrepancy simply reflects typical differences in experimental design. We developed a motor task that is mathematically equivalent to choosing between lotteries and used it to compare how the same subject chose between classical economic lotteries and the same lotteries presented in equivalent motor form. In experiment 1, we found that subjects are more risk seeking in deciding between motor lotteries. In experiment 2, we used cumulative prospect theory to model choice and separately estimated the probability weighting functions and the value functions for each subject carrying out each task. We found no patterned differences in how subjects represented outcome value in the motor and the classical tasks. However, the probability weighting functions for motor and classical tasks were markedly and significantly different. Those for the classical task showed a typical tendency to overweight small probabilities and underweight large probabilities, and those for the motor task showed the opposite pattern of probability distortion. This outcome also accounts forthe increased risk-seeking observed in the motor tasks of experiment 1. We conclude that the same subject distorts probability, but not value, differently in making identical decisions in motor and classical form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6088-6093
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - 14 Apr 2009


  • Decision from experience
  • Expected utility theory
  • Independence axiom
  • Movement planning
  • Prospect theory


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