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An Economic Approach to the Psychology of Change: Amnesia, Inertia, and Impulsiveness

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  • David Hirshleifer
  • Ivo Welch

Abstract

This paper models how imperfect memory affects the optimal continuity of policies. We examine the choices of a player (individual or firm) who observes previous actions but cannot remember the rationale for these actions. In a stable environment, the player optimally responds to memory loss with excess inertia, defined as a higher probability of following old policies than would occur under full recall. In a volatile environment, the player can exhibit excess impulsiveness (i.e., be more prone to follow new information signals). The model provides a memory-loss explanation for some documented psychological biases, implies that inertia and organizational routines should be more important instable environments than in volatile ones, and provides other empirical implications relating memory and environmental variables to the continuity of decisions.

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File URL: http://icfpub.som.yale.edu/publications/2556
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Yale School of Management in its series Yale School of Management Working Papers with number ysm185.

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Date of creation: 01 May 2001
Date of revision: 01 Aug 2009
Handle: RePEc:ysm:somwrk:ysm185

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Web page: http://icf.som.yale.edu/
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Keywords: Memory; Inertia; Amnesia; Behavioral Economics;

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References

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  1. Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "A Memory-Based Model Of Bounded Rationality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 735-774, August.
  2. George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2001. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," General Economics and Teaching 0012003, EconWPA.
  3. Avinash Dixit, 1992. "Investment and Hysteresis," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 107-132, Winter.
  4. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 2010. "A theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom and cultural change as informational Cascades," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1193, David K. Levine.
  5. Banerjee, Abhijit V, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817, August.
  6. Rasmusen, Eric, 1992. "Managerial Conservatism and Rational Information Acquisition," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 175-201, Spring.
  7. Marco Ottaviani & Giuseppe Moscarini & Lones Smith, 1998. "Social learning in a changing world," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 657-665.
  8. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2001. "THE POWER OF SUGGESTION: INERTIA IN 401(k) PARTICIPATION AND SAVINGS BEHAVIOR," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187, November.
  9. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-48, December.
  10. Akerlof, George A & Dickens, William T, 1982. "The Economic Consequences of Cognitive Dissonance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(3), pages 307-19, June.
  11. Kuran, Timur, 1987. "Preference Falsification, Policy Continuity and Collective Conservatism," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(387), pages 642-65, September.
  12. Arkes, Hal R. & Blumer, Catherine, 1985. "The psychology of sunk cost," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 124-140, February.
  13. Acs, Zoltan J & Audretsch, David B, 1988. "Innovation in Large and Small Firms: An Empirical Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 678-90, September.
  14. Donald C. Hambrick & Richard A. D'Aveni, 1992. "Top Team Deterioration as Part of the Downward Spiral of Large Corporate Bankruptcies," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 38(10), pages 1445-1466, October.
  15. Cohen, Wesley M & Klepper, Steven, 1996. "A Reprise of Size and R&D," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(437), pages 925-51, July.
  16. Dow, James, 1991. "Search Decisions with Limited Memory," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(1), pages 1-14, January.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Carlos Alós-Ferrer & Fei Shi, 2012. "Imitation with asymmetric memory," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 49(1), pages 193-215, January.
  2. Hirshleifer, David & Teoh, Siew Hong, 2008. "Thought and Behavior Contagion in Capital Markets," MPRA Paper 9142, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Sgroi, D., 2002. "Modelling Experience as Signal Accumulation," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0205, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
  4. John Smith, 2008. "Imperfect Memory and the Preference for Increasing Payments," Departmental Working Papers 200805, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
  5. Ivo Welch, 2002. "Columbus' Egg: The Real Determinant of Capital Structure," NBER Working Papers 8782, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. John Smith, 2007. "Cognitive Dissonance, Imperfect Memory and the Preference for Increasing Payments," Departmental Working Papers 200705, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
  7. Anja Lambrecht & Katja Seim & Catherine Tucker, 2007. "Stuck in the Adoption Funnel: The Effect of Delays in the Adoption Process on Ultimate Adoption," Working Papers 07-40, NET Institute, revised Oct 2007.

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