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An Economic Approach to the Psychology of Change: Amnesia, Inertia, and Impulsiveness

  • David Hirshleifer

    (Ohio State University)

  • Ivo Welch

    (Yale School of Management)

This paper models how imperfect memory affects the optimal continuity of policies. We examine the choices of a player (individual or firm) who observes previous actions but cannot remember the rationale for these actions. In a stable environment, the player optimally responds to memory loss with excess inertia, defined as a higher probability of following old policies than would occur under full recall. In a volatile environment, the player can exhibit excess impulsiveness (i.e., be more prone to follow new information signals). The model provides a memory-loss explanation for some documented psychological biases, implies that inertia and organizational routines should be more important in stable environments than in volatile ones, and provides other empirical implications relating memory and environmental variables to the continuity of decisions.

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File URL: http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/P/cd/d13a/d1306.pdf
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Paper provided by Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University in its series Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers with number 1306.

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Length: 45 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1306
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Web page: http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/

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Order Information: Postal: Cowles Foundation, Yale University, Box 208281, New Haven, CT 06520-8281 USA

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  1. Donald C. Hambrick & Richard A. D'Aveni, 1992. "Top Team Deterioration as Part of the Downward Spiral of Large Corporate Bankruptcies," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 38(10), pages 1445-1466, October.
  2. George Loewenstein, Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin., 2000. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," Economics Working Papers E00-284, University of California at Berkeley.
  3. Rasmusen, Eric, 1992. "Managerial Conservatism and Rational Information Acquisition," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 175-201, Spring.
  4. Marco Ottaviani & Giuseppe Moscarini & Lones Smith, 1998. "Social learning in a changing world," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 657-665.
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  6. Akerlof, George A & Dickens, William T, 1982. "The Economic Consequences of Cognitive Dissonance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(3), pages 307-19, June.
  7. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2001. "THE POWER OF SUGGESTION: INERTIA IN 401(k) PARTICIPATION AND SAVINGS BEHAVIOR," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187, November.
  8. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-48, December.
  9. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 2010. "A theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom and cultural change as informational Cascades," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1193, David K. Levine.
  10. Kuran, Timur, 1987. "Preference Falsification, Policy Continuity and Collective Conservatism," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(387), pages 642-65, September.
  11. Avinash Dixit, 1992. "Investment and Hysteresis," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 107-132, Winter.
  12. Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "A Memory-Based Model Of Bounded Rationality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 735-774, August.
  13. Acs, Zoltan J & Audretsch, David B, 1988. "Innovation in Large and Small Firms: An Empirical Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 678-90, September.
  14. Dow, James, 1991. "Search Decisions with Limited Memory," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(1), pages 1-14, January.
  15. Arkes, Hal R. & Blumer, Catherine, 1985. "The psychology of sunk cost," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 124-140, February.
  16. Cohen, Wesley M & Klepper, Steven, 1996. "A Reprise of Size and R&D," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(437), pages 925-51, July.
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