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Are CEOs expected utility maximizers?

  • List, John A.
  • Mason, Charles F.

Are individuals expected utility maximizers? This question represents much more than academic curiosity. In a normative sense, at stake are the fundamental underpinnings of the bulk of the last half-century's models of choice under uncertainty. From a positive perspective, the ubiquitous use of benefit-cost analysis across government agencies renders the expected utility maximization paradigm literally the only game in town. In this study, we advance the literature by exploring CEO's preferences over small probability, high loss lotteries. Using undergraduate students as our experimental control group, we find that both our CEO and student subject pools exhibit frequent and large departures from expected utility theory. In addition, as the extreme payoffs become more likely CEOs exhibit greater aversion to risk. Our results suggest that use of the expected utility paradigm in decision making substantially underestimates society's willingness to pay to reduce risk in small probability, high loss events.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Econometrics.

Volume (Year): 162 (2011)
Issue (Month): 1 (May)
Pages: 114-123

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Handle: RePEc:eee:econom:v:162:y:2011:i:1:p:114-123
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/jeconom

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  1. Ernst Fehr & John A. List, 2004. "The Hidden Costs and Returns of Incentives-Trust and Trustworthiness Among CEOs," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(5), pages 743-771, 09.
  2. Graciela Chichilnisky & Geoffrey Heal, 1993. "Global Environmental Risks," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 65-86, Fall.
  3. Evans, Dorla A, 1997. "The Role of Markets in Reducing Expected Utility Violations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(3), pages 622-36, June.
  4. Charles Mason & Jason Shogren & Chad Settle & John List, 2005. "Investigating Risky Choices Over Losses Using Experimental Data," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 31(2), pages 187-215, September.
  5. Kenneth E. Train, 1998. "Recreation Demand Models with Taste Differences over People," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 74(2), pages 230-239.
  6. David Revelt & Kenneth Train, 1998. "Mixed Logit With Repeated Choices: Households' Choices Of Appliance Efficiency Level," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(4), pages 647-657, November.
  7. John List & Michael Haigh, 2005. "Do professional traders exhibit myopic loss aversion? An experimental analysis," Artefactual Field Experiments 00052, The Field Experiments Website.
  8. John List & Charles Mason, 2009. "Are CEOs Expected Utility Maximizers?," NBER Working Papers 15453, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. John A. List, 2007. "Field Experiments: A Bridge Between Lab and Naturally-Occurring Data," NBER Working Papers 12992, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. David Reiley & John List, 2008. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00091, The Field Experiments Website.
  11. Hey, John D & Orme, Chris, 1994. "Investigating Generalizations of Expected Utility Theory Using Experimental Data," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(6), pages 1291-1326, November.
  12. repec:feb:framed:00135 is not listed on IDEAS
  13. Hey, John D., 1995. "Experimental investigations of errors in decision making under risk," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(3-4), pages 633-640, April.
  14. Chris Starmer, 2000. "Developments in Non-expected Utility Theory: The Hunt for a Descriptive Theory of Choice under Risk," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(2), pages 332-382, June.
  15. Harless, David W., 1992. "Predictions about indifference curves inside the unit triangle : A test of variants of expected utility theory," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 391-414, August.
  16. Chew, S H & Epstein, Larry G & Segal, U, 1991. "Mixture Symmetry and Quadratic Utility," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(1), pages 139-63, January.
  17. Yaari, Menahem E, 1987. "The Dual Theory of Choice under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(1), pages 95-115, January.
  18. Daniel McFadden & Kenneth Train, 2000. "Mixed MNL models for discrete response," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(5), pages 447-470.
  19. Machina, Mark J, 1987. "Choice under Uncertainty: Problems Solved and Unsolved," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 121-54, Summer.
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