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When Optimal Choices Feel Wrong: A Laboratory Study of Bayesian Updating, Complexity, and Affect

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  • Gary Charness
  • Dan Levin

Abstract

We examine decision-making under risk and uncertainty in a laboratory experiment. The heart of our design examines how one’s propensity to use Bayes’ rule is affected by whether this rule is aligned with reinforcement or clashes with it. In some cases, we create environments where Bayesian updating after a successful outcome should lead a decision-maker to make a change, while no change should be made after observing an unsuccessful outcome. We observe striking patterns: When payoff reinforcement and Bayesian updating are aligned, nearly all people respond as expected. However, when these forces clash, around 50% of all decisions are inconsistent with Bayesian updating. While people tend to make costly initial choices that eliminate complexity in a subsequent decision, we find that complexity alone cannot explain our results. Finally, when a draw provides only information (and no payment), switching errors occur much less frequently, suggesting that the ‘emotional reinforcement’ (affect) induced by payments is a critical factor in deviations from Bayesian updating. There is considerable behavioral heterogeneity; we identify different types in the population and find that people who make ‘switching errors’ are more likely to have cross-period ‘reinforcement’ tendencies.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 95 (2005)
Issue (Month): 4 (September)
Pages: 1300-1309

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:95:y:2005:i:4:p:1300-1309

Note: DOI: 10.1257/0002828054825583
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  1. Gilboa, Itzhak & Schmeidler, David, 1995. "Case-Based Decision Theory," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(3), pages 605-39, August.
  2. Drew Fudenberg & David K. Levine, 1998. "The Theory of Learning in Games," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262061945, December.
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  4. Loomes, Graham & Sugden, Robert, 1982. "Regret Theory: An Alternative Theory of Rational Choice under Uncertainty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(368), pages 805-24, December.
  5. Grether, David M., 1990. "Testing Bayes Rule and the Representativeness Heuristic: Some Experimental Evidence," Working Papers 724, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  6. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. " Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
  7. Gary Charness & Dan Levin, 2005. "When Optimal Choices Feel Wrong: A Laboratory Study of Bayesian Updating, Complexity, and Affect," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1300-1309, September.
  8. Camerer, Colin & Weber, Martin, 1992. " Recent Developments in Modeling Preferences: Uncertainty and Ambiguity," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 325-70, October.
  9. Gilboa,Itzhak & Schmeidler,David, 2001. "A Theory of Case-Based Decisions," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521802345, April.
  10. Zizzo, Daniel John & Stolarz-Fantino, Stephanie & Wen, Julie & Fantino, Edmund, 2000. "A violation of the monotonicity axiom: experimental evidence on the conjunction fallacy," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 263-276, March.
  11. Camerer, Colin & Ho, Teck-Hua, 1997. "Experience-Weighted Attraction Learning in Games: A Unifying Approach," Working Papers 1003, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  12. Ouwersloot, Hans & Nijkamp, Peter & Rietveld, Piet, 1998. "Errors in probability updating behaviour : Measurement and impact analysis," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 19(5), pages 535-563, October.
  13. Erev, Ido & Roth, Alvin E, 1998. "Predicting How People Play Games: Reinforcement Learning in Experimental Games with Unique, Mixed Strategy Equilibria," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(4), pages 848-81, September.
  14. Roth, Alvin E. & Erev, Ido, 1995. "Learning in extensive-form games: Experimental data and simple dynamic models in the intermediate term," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 164-212.
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