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Underweighting Rare Events in Experience Based Decisions: Beyond Sample Error

  • Greg Barron

    ()

    (Harvard Business School)

  • Giovanni Ursino

    ()

    (DISCE, Università Cattolica)

Recent research has focused on the "description-experience gap": While rare events are overweighted in description based decisions, people tend to behave as if they underweight rare events in decisions based on experience. Barron and Erev (2003) and Hertwig, Barron, Weber, and Erev (2004) argue that such findings are substantive and call for a theory of decision making under risk other than Prospect Theory for decisions form experience. Fox and Hadar (2006) suggest that the discrepancy is due to sampling error: people are likely to sample rare events less often than objective probability implies, especially if their samples are small. The current paper examines the necessity of sample error in the underweighting of rare events. The first experiment shows that the gap persists even when people sample the entire population of outcomes and make a decision under risk rather than under uncertainty. A reanalysis of Barron and Erev (2003) further reveals that the gap persists even when subjects observe the expected frequency of rare events. The second experiment shows that the gap exists in a repeated decision making paradigm that controls for sample biases and the "hot stove" effect. Moreover, while underweighting persists in actual choices, overweighting is observed in judged probabilities. The results of the two experiments strengthen the suggestion that descriptive theories of choice that assume overweighting of small probabilities are not useful in describing decisions from experience. This is true even when there is no sample error, for both decisions under risk and for repeated choices.

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File URL: http://www.unicatt.it/Istituti/EconomiaImpresaLavoro/Quaderni/ieil0054.pdf
File Function: First version, 2009
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Paper provided by Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Dipartimenti e Istituti di Scienze Economiche (DISCE) in its series DISCE - Quaderni dell'Istituto di Economia dell'Impresa e del Lavoro with number ieil0054.

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Length: 16 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ctc:serie4:ieil0054
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.unicatt.it/Istituti/EconomiaImpresaLavoro
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  1. Starmer, Chris & Sugden, Robert, 1991. "Does the Random-Lottery Incentive System Elicit True Preferences? An Experimental Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(4), pages 971-78, September.
  2. Rakow, Tim & Demes, Kali A. & Newell, Ben R., 2008. "Biased samples not mode of presentation: Re-examining the apparent underweighting of rare events in experience-based choice," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 106(2), pages 168-179, July.
  3. Ido Erev & Ira Glozman & Ralph Hertwig, 2008. "What impacts the impact of rare events," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 36(2), pages 153-177, April.
  4. Mohammed Abdellaoui & Olivier L'Haridon & Corina Paraschiv, 2011. "Experienced vs. Described Uncertainty: Do We Need Two Prospect Theory Specifications?," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 57(10), pages 1879-1895, October.
  5. Craig R. Fox & Amos Tversky, 1998. "A Belief-Based Account of Decision Under Uncertainty," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 44(7), pages 879-895, July.
  6. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1992. " Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 297-323, October.
  7. Holt, Charles A, 1986. "Preference Reversals and the Independence Axiom," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 508-15, June.
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