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Hidden Skewness: On the Difficulty of Multiplicative Compounding under Random Shocks


  • Ludwig Ensthaler
  • Olga Nottmeyer
  • Georg Weizsäcker
  • Christian Zankiewicz


Multiplicative growth processes that are subject to random shocks often have a skewed distribution of outcomes. In a number of incentivized laboratory experiments we show that a large majority of participants either strongly underestimate skewness or ignore it completely. Participants misperceive the outcome distribution’s spread to be far too narrow-band and they estimate the median to lie too close to the distribution’s center. The observed bias in expectations is irrespective to risk preferences and fairly robust to feedback. It is consistent with a behavioral model in which geometric growth is confused with linear growth. The misperception is a possible explanation of investors’ difficulties with real-world financial products like leveraged ETFs.

Suggested Citation

  • Ludwig Ensthaler & Olga Nottmeyer & Georg Weizsäcker & Christian Zankiewicz, 2014. "Hidden Skewness: On the Difficulty of Multiplicative Compounding under Random Shocks," CESifo Working Paper Series 4760, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_4760

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ludwig Ensthaler & Olga Nottmeyer & Georg Weizsäcker & Christian Zankiewicz, 2013. "Hidden Skewness: On the Difficulty of Multiplicative Compounding under Random Shocks," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1337, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ludwig Ensthaler & Olga Nottmeyer & Georg Weizsäcker & Christian Zankiewicz, 2013. "Hidden Skewness: On the Difficulty of Multiplicative Compounding under Random Shocks," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1337, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    2. Matthew R Levy & Joshua Tasoff, 2016. "Misunderestimation: exponential-growth bias and time-varying returns," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 36(1), pages 29-34.

    More about this item


    behavioral economics; irrational expectations; binomial tree;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • G02 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Behavioral Finance: Underlying Principles


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