King's College London

Research portal

Adaptive Preferences, Adapted Preferences

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003–1025
Issue number508
Early online date10 Jul 2018
Accepted/In press13 Apr 2018
E-pub ahead of print10 Jul 2018
PublishedOct 2018


King's Authors


People who have not experienced diseases and health conditions tend to judge them to be worse than they are reported to be by people who have experienced them. This phenomenon, known as the disability paradox, presents a challenge for health policy, and in particular, healthcare resource distribution. This divergence between patient and public preferences is most plausibly explained as a result of hedonic adaptation, a widespread phenomenon in which people tend to adapt fairly quickly to the state they are in, good or bad, and adjust their baseline utility accordingly.

If patient utilities can be shown to be inappropriate for use in public policy decision making, the disability paradox fades away. This paper offers a critique of one such attempt: the idea that adaptation leads to adaptive preferences. I argue that none of the main accounts of adaptive preferences in fact characterise adapted patient preferences as irrational. Adapted preferences should not, therefore, be treated as synonymous with adaptive preferences. I suggest that much patient adaptation should be understood as a form of the ubiquitous human ability to respond to environmental change. Consequently, we ought not to discount patient preferences.

Download statistics

No data available

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454