I am looking for experiments for estimating the form a utility function of a consumer on two or more commodities. In particular, I would like to know e.g. if the utility function of a consumer is of the form $u(x,y) = ax+by$ (linear), or $u(x,y) = \min(x/a,y/b)$ (Leontief), or $u(x,y) = x^a y^b$ (Cobb-Douglas), or some other form.

I found many papers on experiments that estimate the utility function of a consumer on a single commodity (e.g. whether the utility is a concave / linear / convex function with respect to money), for example this one. These experiments usually ask subjects to compare lotteries, which is somewhat problematic since the utility might be confounded with the attitude to risk and uncertainty.

There are also some papers on estimating utility functions in the context of a market, via the demand function. In my use-case, there is no market, and I need to assess the utility function of consumers as individuals (not as a group).

What are some papers describing experiments for measuring the utility of an individual consumer, on two or more commodities, in a deterministic way?

  • $\begingroup$ At best, you can try to estimate preferences. Specific functional forms have no economic meaning. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker that's fine. I am not looking for an exact functional form - I just want to distinguish between classes of preferences, e.g. to know if an agent's preferences are linear, Leontief or Cobb-Douglas. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ That is not a Leontief utility function. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ Can you please clarify what you mean by "I would like to know e.g. if the utility function of a consumer is of the form"? Do you assume that the behavior of the real life subject will be such that it is perfectly described by one of the famous utility function classes? Or do you want to approximate their behavior, find a 'best fit' in some sense? What exactly is your goal? $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ The health economics literature has a whole bunch of material on estimating utilities. Like standard gamble, Time tradeoff and even simple visual analogue scales. I know this is very much a non-answer (and quite possibly not useful) but I would recommend looking at a text like this one books.google.ca/… $\endgroup$
    – EconJohn
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 2:48


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