Decision heuristic or preference? Attribute non-attendance in discrete choice problems

Sebastian Heidenreich* (Corresponding Author), Verity Watson, Mandy Ryan, Euan Phimister

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


This paper investigates if respondents’ choice to not consider all characteristics of a multi-attribute health service may represent preferences. Over the last decade, an increasing number of studies account for attribute non-attendance (ANA) when using discrete choice experiments to elicit individual’s preferences. Most studies assume such behaviour is a heuristic and therefore uninformative. This assumption may result in misleading welfare estimates if ANA reflects preferences. This is the first paper to assess if ANA is a heuristic or genuine preference without relying on respondents’ self-stated motivation and the first study to explore this question within a health context. Based on findings from cognitive psychology we expect that familiar respondents are less likely to use a decision heuristic to simplify choices than unfamiliar respondents. We employ a latent class model of discrete choice experiment data concerned with NHS managers’ preferences for support services that assist with performance concerns. We present quantitative and qualitative evidence that in our study ANA mostly represents preferences. We also show that wrong assumptions about ANA result in inadequate welfare measure that can result in suboptimal policy advice. Future research should proceed with caution when assuming that ANA is a heuristic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-171
Number of pages15
JournalHealth Economics
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • discrete choice experiment
  • attribute non-attendance
  • latent class
  • heuristic
  • thematic analysis


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