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Viewing the future through a warped lens: Why uncertainty generates hyperbolic discounting

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  • Thomas Epper
  • Helga Fehr-Duda
  • Adrian Bruhin

Abstract

A large body of experimental research has demonstrated that, on average, people violate the axioms of expected utility theory as well as of discounted utility theory. In particular, aggregate behavior is best characterized by probability distortions and hyperbolic discounting. But is it the same people who are prone to these behaviors? Based on an experiment with salient monetary incentives we demonstrate that there is a strong and significant relationship between greater departures from linear probability weighting and the degree of decreasing discount rates at the level of individual behavior. We argue that this relationship can be rationalized by the uncertainty inherent in any future event, linking discounting behavior directly to risk preferences. Consequently, decreasing discount rates may be generated by people's proneness to probability distortions.
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Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Epper & Helga Fehr-Duda & Adrian Bruhin, 2011. "Viewing the future through a warped lens: Why uncertainty generates hyperbolic discounting," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 43(3), pages 169-203, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jrisku:v:43:y:2011:i:3:p:169-203
    DOI: 10.1007/s11166-011-9129-x
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Time preferences; Risk preferences; Hyperbolic discounting; Probability weighting; Institutionally generated uncertainty; D01; D81; D91;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making

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