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Behavioral Economics

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  • Sendhil Mullainathan
  • Richard H. Thaler

Abstract

Behavioral Economics is the combination of psychology and economics that investigates what happens in markets in which some of the agents display human limitations and complications. We begin with a preliminary question about relevance. Does some combination of market forces, learning and evolution render these human qualities irrelevant? No. Because of limits of arbitrage less than perfect agents survive and influence market outcomes. We then discuss three important ways in which humans deviate from the standard economic model. Bounded rationality reflects the limited cognitive abilities that constrain human problem solving. Bounded willpower captures the fact that people sometimes make choices that are not in their long-run interest. Bounded self-interest incorporates the comforting fact that humans are often willing to sacrifice their own interests to help others. We then illustrate how these concepts can be applied in two settings: finance and savings. Financial markets have greater arbitrage opportunities than other markets, so behavioral factors might be thought to be less important here, but we show that even here the limits of arbitrage create anomalies that the psychology of decision making helps explain. Since saving for retirement requires both complex calculations and willpower, behavioral factors are essential elements of any complete descriptive theory.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7948.

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Date of creation: Oct 2000
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7948

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  1. Camerer, Colin & Babcock, Linda & Loewenstein, George & Thaler, Richard, 1996. "Labor Supply of New York City Cab Drivers: One Day At A time," Working Papers 960, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  2. James Banks & Richard Blundell & Sarah Tanner, 1995. "Is there a retirement-savings puzzle?," IFS Working Papers W95/04, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  3. Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1995. "The Limits of Arbitrage," NBER Working Papers 5167, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Russell, Thomas & Thaler, Richard, 1985. "The Relevance of Quasi Rationality in Competitive Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(5), pages 1071-82, December.
  5. John Haltiwanger & Michael Waldman, 1983. "Rational Expectations and the Limits of Rationality: An Analysis of Heterogeneity," UCLA Economics Working Papers 303, UCLA Department of Economics.
  6. De Long, J Bradford & Andrei Shleifer & Lawrence H. Summers & Robert J. Waldmann, 1990. "Noise Trader Risk in Financial Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(4), pages 703-38, August.
  7. Shefrin, Hersh & Statman, Meir, 1985. " The Disposition to Sell Winners Too Early and Ride Losers Too Long: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 40(3), pages 777-90, July.
  8. De Bondt, Werner F M & Thaler, Richard, 1985. " Does the Stock Market Overreact?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 40(3), pages 793-805, July.
  9. Charles Lee & Andrei Shleifer & Richard Thaler, 1990. "Investor Sentiment and the Closed-End Fund Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 3465, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Froot, Kenneth A. & Dabora, Emil M., 1999. "How are stock prices affected by the location of trade?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(2), pages 189-216, August.
  11. Richard Thaler, 1985. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 4(3), pages 199-214.
  12. John Conlisk, 1996. "Why Bounded Rationality?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(2), pages 669-700, June.
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