IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Decision-making under uncertainty and demand for insurance: An empirical study


  • Cristina Ottaviani

    (Università degli Studi di Roma - La Sapienza)

  • Daniela Vandone

    (University of Milan)


In this study we empirically estimated the role played by attitudes toward risk in insurance decision-making. To this end, we used the Iowa Gambling Task coupled with skin conductance recording, a validated experimental task of decision making under ambiguity which provides two dimensions of risk taking: the performance at the risk, as a measure of risk propensity, and the functioning of the somatic marker, as a measure of risk perception, that is the ability of the individual to “feel” the risk, independently of his/her risk attitude. The sample was made by 445 households and demographic-socio economical profiles were also obtained. Aside from confirming the role played by socio-economic explanatory variables, such as income level and marital status, on insurance purchase, results from the probit model showed the relevance of psychophysiological data: the likelihood of insurance demand is higher for people who are more risk seeking (worse performance at the task) but are adaptively able to feel the risk (anticipatory skin conductance responses to disadvantageous decks). Results are discussed in light of the need of interdisciplinary research.

Suggested Citation

  • Cristina Ottaviani & Daniela Vandone, 2011. "Decision-making under uncertainty and demand for insurance: An empirical study," UNIMI - Research Papers in Economics, Business, and Statistics unimi-1108, Universitá degli Studi di Milano.
  • Handle: RePEc:bep:unimip:unimi-1108 Note: oai:cdlib1:unimi-1108

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hazen, Gordon B & Lee, Jia-Sheng, 1991. "Ambiguity Aversion in the Small and in the Large for Weighted Linear Utility," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 4(2), pages 177-212, April.
    2. Donghui Li & Fariborz Moshirian & Pascal Nguyen & Timothy Wee, 2007. "The Demand for Life Insurance in OECD Countries," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 74(3), pages 637-652.
    3. Enrico Rubaltelli & Rino Rumiati & Paul Slovic, 2010. "Do ambiguity avoidance and the comparative ignorance hypothesis depend on people’s affective reactions?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 40(3), pages 243-254, June.
    4. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1991. "How Strong Are Bequest Motives? Evidence Based on Estimates of the Demand for Life Insurance and Annuities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 899-927, October.
    5. Joseph G. Eisenhauer, 2004. "Risk Aversion and the Willingness to Pay for Insurance: A Cautionary Discussion of Adverse Selection," Risk Management and Insurance Review, American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 7(2), pages 165-175, September.
    6. McGuire, Martin C & Pratt, John & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1991. "Paying to Improve Your Chances: Gambling or Insurance?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 4(4), pages 329-338, December.
    7. Emily Norman Zietz, 2003. "An Examination of the Demand for Life Insurance," Risk Management and Insurance Review, American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 6(2), pages 159-191, September.
    8. Kaïs Dachraoui & Georges Dionne & Louis Eeckhoudt & Philippe Godfroid, 2004. "Comparative Mixed Risk Aversion: Definition and Application to Self-Protection and Willingness to Pay," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 29(3), pages 261-276, December.
    9. Robert B. Barsky & F. Thomas Juster & Miles S. Kimball & Matthew D. Shapiro, 1997. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 537-579.
    10. Hemenway, David, 1992. "Propitious Selection in Insurance," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 247-251, July.
    11. Neilson, William S, 2002. "Comparative Risk Sensitivity with Reference-Dependent Preferences," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 131-142, March.
    12. Dionne, Georges & Eeckhoudt, Louis, 1985. "Self-insurance, self-protection and increased risk aversion," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 17(1-2), pages 39-42.
    13. Hogarth, Robin M & Kunreuther, Howard, 1989. "Risk, Ambiguity, and Insurance," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 2(1), pages 5-35, April.
    14. Lewis, Frank D, 1989. "Dependents and the Demand for Life Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(3), pages 452-467, June.
    15. Szpiro, George G, 1986. "Measuring Risk Aversion: An Alternative Approach," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 68(1), pages 156-159, February.
    16. Yijia Lin & Martin F. Grace, 2007. "Household Life Cycle Protection: Life Insurance Holdings, Financial Vulnerability, and Portfolio Implications," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 74(1), pages 141-173.
    17. Hoy, Michael & Robson, Arthur J., 1981. "Insurance as a Giffen good," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 47-51.
    18. 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.
    19. Sarah Jacobson & Ragan Petrie, 2009. "Learning from mistakes: What do inconsistent choices over risk tell us?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 38(2), pages 143-158, April.
    20. Fortune, Peter, 1973. "A Theory of Optimal Life Insurance: Development and Tests," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 28(3), pages 587-600, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Coppola, Michela, 2014. "Eliciting risk-preferences in socio-economic surveys: How do different measures perform?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 1-10.
    2. Luisa ANDERLONI & Daniela VANDONE, 2011. "Vulnerabilità e benessere delle famiglie italiane," Departmental Working Papers 2011-40, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.

    More about this item


    insurance demand; decision making; ambiguity; risk taking; Iowa gambling task;

    JEL classification:

    • G22 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Insurance; Insurance Companies; Actuarial Studies
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bep:unimip:unimi-1108. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.