Faculty Publications

Ambiguity Preference in Waiting Time: Investigating the Desirability Effect and the Interplay of Temporal Description, Outcome Category, and Evaluation Mode

Document Type



desirability effect, joint/separate evaluation mode, temporal description, the information gap theory, waiting under time-ambiguity

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of Behavioral Decision Making






People often experience uncertain waiting times, like when awaiting job interview decisions. Despite its prevalence, the preference for waiting time-ambiguity has received limited research attention. Drawing on the information gap theory, which suggests ambiguity avoidance is influenced by the affective response to the missing information caused by uncertainty, this work examined the effect of outcome desirability on ambiguity preference in the context of waiting time. Across five studies in China and the United States, this work observed that people strongly dislike unknown waiting time for undesirable outcomes compared with desirable outcomes. This effect held true in both rating tasks and choice tasks. Furthermore, this study explores factors influencing this desirability effect. Using calendar dates instead of waiting time units and evaluating the options separately rather than jointly, reduced the impact of outcome desirability on ambiguity preference. Additionally, this desirability affect was more pronounced for utilitarian than hedonic outcomes. Altogether, these findings highlight the role of outcome desirability, temporal description, and evaluation mode in shaping individuals' preference for ambiguity in the domain of waiting time.


Department of Psychology

Original Publication Date


DOI of published version