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Optimism and Pessimism with Expected Utility


  • David Dillenberger

    (Dept. of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Andrew Postlewaite

    (Dept. of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Kareen Rozen

    (Cowles Foundation, Yale University)


Savage (1954) provided a set of axioms on preferences over acts that were equivalent to the existence of an expected utility representation. We show that in addition to this representation, there is a continuum of other "expected utility" representations in which for any act, the probability distribution over states depends on the corresponding outcomes. We suggest that optimism and pessimism can be captured by the stake-dependent probabilities in these alternative representations; e.g., for a pessimist, the probability of every outcome except the worst is distorted down from the Savage probability. Extending the DM's preferences to be defined on both subjective acts and objective lotteries, we show how one may distinguish optimists from pessimists and separate attitude towards uncertainty from curvature of the utility function over monetary prizes.

Suggested Citation

  • David Dillenberger & Andrew Postlewaite & Kareen Rozen, 2011. "Optimism and Pessimism with Expected Utility," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1829, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1829

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Eddie Dekel & Barton L. Lipman, 2010. "How (Not) to Do Decision Theory," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 2(1), pages 257-282, September.
    2. Simon Grant & Ben Polak & Tomasz Strzalecki, "undated". "Second-Order Expected Utility," Working Paper 8340, Harvard University OpenScholar.
    3. Simon Grant & Edi Karni, 2005. "Why Does It Matter That Beliefs And Valuations Be Correctly Represented?," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 46(3), pages 917-934, August.
    4. Gilboa, Itzhak & Postlewaite, Andrew & Schmeidler, David, 2009. "Is It Always Rational To Satisfy Savage'S Axioms?," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(03), pages 285-296, November.
    5. Eddie Dekel & Barton L. Lipman, 2012. "Costly Self‐Control and Random Self‐Indulgence," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 80(3), pages 1271-1302, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Weinstock, Eyal & Sonsino, Doron, 2014. "Are risk-seekers more optimistic? Non-parametric approach," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 236-251.
    2. Paola Manzini & Marco Mariotti, 2015. "Modelling Imperfect Attention," Working Papers 744, Queen Mary University of London, School of Economics and Finance.
    3. Topi Miettinen & Michael Kosfeld & Ernst Fehr & Jörgen W. Weibull, 2017. "Revealed Preferences in a Sequential Prisoners' Dilemma: A Horse-Race Between Five Utility Functions," CESifo Working Paper Series 6358, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Barron, Kai, 2016. "Belief updating: Does the 'good-news, bad-news' asymmetry extend to purely financial domains?," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2016-309, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).

    More about this item


    Subjective expected utility; Optimism; Pessimism; Stake-dependent probability;

    JEL classification:

    • D80 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - General
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty

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