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The Effects of Total Sleep Deprivation on Bayesian Updating


  • David L. Dickinson
  • Sean P.A. Drummond


Recent evidence suggests that nearly 25% of U.S. adults (47 million) suffer from some level of sleep deprivation. The impact of this sleep deprivation on the U.S. economy includes direct medical expenses related to sleep deprivation and related disorders, the cost of accidents, and the cost of reduced worker productivity. Sleep research has examined the effects of sleep deprivation on a number of performance measures, but the effects of sleep deprivation on decision-making under uncertainty are largely unknown. In this article, subjects perform a decision task (Grether, 1980) in both a well-rested and experimentally sleep-deprived state. The experimental task allows us to explore the extent to which subjects weight prior odds versus new evidence (i.e., information) when forming subjective (posterior) beliefs of a particular event. Wellrested subjects display a tendency to overweight the evidence in forming subjective posterior probability estimates, which is inconsistent with Bayes rule but possibly consistent with use of a ‘representativeness’ heuristic. In his original Bayes rule experiment, Grether (1980) also found that typical student-subjects overweighted the evidence relative to the prior odds in making posterior assessments. Ironically, behavior following sleep-deprivation is more consistent with the use of Bayes rule, because this treatment significantly reduces the (over)weight that subjects place on the new evidence. Because choice accuracy is not significantly affected by sleep deprivation, the significant difference in estimated decision-model parameters may indicate that the brain compensates under adversity in certain risky choice decision environments.

Suggested Citation

  • David L. Dickinson & Sean P.A. Drummond, 2006. "The Effects of Total Sleep Deprivation on Bayesian Updating," Working Papers 06-06, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
  • Handle: RePEc:apl:wpaper:06-06

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Harrison, Y. & Horne, J. A., 1999. "One Night of Sleep Loss Impairs Innovative Thinking and Flexible Decision Making, ," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 78(2), pages 128-145, May.
    2. Lisa A. Kramer & Mark J. Kamstra & Maurice D. Levi, 2000. "Losing Sleep at the Market: The Daylight Saving Anomaly," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 1005-1011, September.
    3. Biddle, Jeff E & Hamermesh, Daniel S, 1990. "Sleep and the Allocation of Time," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(5), pages 922-943, October.
    4. Grether, David M., 1992. "Testing bayes rule and the representativeness heuristic: Some experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 31-57, January.
    5. David M. Grether, 1980. "Bayes Rule as a Descriptive Model: The Representativeness Heuristic," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 95(3), pages 537-557.
    6. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    7. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1991. "Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1039-1061.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Sleep deprivation and rationality
      by chris dillow in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2006-03-21 19:53:08
    2. Miscellaneous
      by Martin Ryan in Geary Behaviour Centre on 2010-01-27 22:20:00


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    Cited by:

    1. David L. Dickinson & Sean P.A. Drummond & Jeff Dyche, 2014. "Voluntary sleep choice and its effects on Bayesian decisions: A study of two samples of college students," Working Papers 14-11, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
    2. David L. Dickinson & Todd McElroy, 2017. "Bayesian versus Heuristic-based choice under sleep restriction and suboptimal times of day," Working Papers 17-07, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.

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