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Description–experience gap under imperfect information: Information continuum and aggressive cost estimating in capital projects

Jing Du (Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)
Qi Wang (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Qian Shi (Tongji University, Shanghai, China)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 2 April 2019

Issue publication date: 10 July 2019




Capital project delivery, such as the delivery of transportation networks and industrial facilities, often suffers losses due to overly aggressive planning. Planners often are overly optimistic about the chance of success while underestimating risks. The purpose of this paper is to examine the hypothesis that these biases are from the difficulties most decision makers face when interpreting probabilistic information.


Three behavioral experiments were conducted to test the theoretical fitness of the paradigms proposed by the description–experience gap literature, namely, the sampling errors effect, the recency effect and statistical information format. College students were recruited to participate in a series of estimating tasks. And their estimating results were compared given different levels of information completeness.


It was found that the existing paradigms could predict risk decision making in the risk-averse estimating scenarios where test subjects were required to give a relatively conservative estimate, but they seemed to be less effective in predicting decisions in the risk-seeking estimating scenario, where test subjects were asked to give a relatively aggressive estimate.


Based on these findings, an integrative model is proposed to explain the observations pertaining to aggressive planning in capital projects. Two dimensions are deemed to be relevant: including risk-taking intentions, and an information uncertainty continuum that ranges from an implicit experience-based information representation to an explicit description-based information representation.



This material is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grants 1761459 and 1761950, and National Natural Science Foundation of China (NNSFC) under Grant 71771178. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF and NNSFC.


Du, J., Wang, Q. and Shi, Q. (2019), "Description–experience gap under imperfect information: Information continuum and aggressive cost estimating in capital projects", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 26 No. 6, pp. 1151-1170.



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