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The Independence Axiom and the Bipolar Behaviorist

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  • Glenn W. Harrison
  • J. Todd Swarthout

Abstract

Developments in the theory of risk require yet another evaluation of the behavioral validity of the independence axiom. This axiom plays a central role in most formal statements of expected utility theory, as well as popular alternative models of decision-making under risk, such as rank-dependent utility theory. It also plays a central role in experiments used to characterize the way in which risk preferences deviate from expected utility theory. If someone claims that individuals behave as if they "probability weight" outcomes, and hence violate the independence axiom, it is invariably on the basis of experiments that must assume the independence axiom. We refer to this as the Bipolar Behavioral Hypothesis: behavioral economists are pessimistic about the axiom when it comes to characterizing how individuals directly evaluate two lotteries in a binary choice task, but are optimistic about the axiom when it comes to characterizing how individuals evaluate multiple lotteries that make up the incentive structure for a multiple-task experiment. Building on designs that have a long tradition in experimental economics, we offer direct tests of the axiom and the evidence for probability weighting. We reject the Bipolar Behavioral Hypothesis: we find that nonparametric preferences estimated for the rank-dependent utility model are significantly affected when one elicits choices with procedures that require the independence assumption, as compared to choices with procedures that do not require that assumption. We also demonstrate this result with familiar parametric preference specifications, and draw general implications for the empirical evaluation of theories about risk.

Suggested Citation

  • Glenn W. Harrison & J. Todd Swarthout, 2012. "The Independence Axiom and the Bipolar Behaviorist," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2012-01, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
  • Handle: RePEc:exc:wpaper:2012-01
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    File URL: http://excen.gsu.edu/workingpapers/GSU_EXCEN_WP_2012-01.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hans P. Binswanger, 1980. "Attitudes Toward Risk: Experimental Measurement in Rural India," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 62(3), pages 395-407.
    2. Fan, Chinn-Ping, 2002. "Allais paradox in the small," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 411-421, November.
    3. Burke, Michael S & Carter, John R. & Gominiak, Robert D. & Ohl, Daniel F, 1996. "An Experimental Note on the Allais Paradox and Monetary Incentives," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 21(4), pages 617-632.
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    Cited by:

    1. Paolo Crosetto & Antonio Filippin, 2013. "The “bomb” risk elicitation task," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 47(1), pages 31-65, August.
    2. Antonio Filippin & Paolo Crosetto, 2016. "A Reconsideration of Gender Differences in Risk Attitudes," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 62(11), pages 3138-3160, November.
    3. Wendy Janssens & Berber Kramer, 2012. "The Social Dilemma of Microinsurance: A Framed Field Experiment on Free-Riding and Coordination," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 12-145/V, Tinbergen Institute, revised 23 Jan 2014.
    4. Harrison, Glenn W. & Martínez-Correa, Jimmy & Swarthout, J. Todd & Ulm, Eric R., 2017. "Scoring rules for subjective probability distributions," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 430-448.
    5. Drichoutis, Andreas & Nayga, Rodolfo, 2013. "A reconciliation of time preference elicitation methods," MPRA Paper 46916, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 12 May 2013.
    6. Irene Comeig & Charles A. Holt & Ainhoa Jaramillo-Gutiérrez, 2015. "Dealing with risk: Gender, stakes, and probability effects," Discussion Papers in Economic Behaviour 0215, University of Valencia, ERI-CES.
    7. Page, Lionel & Savage, David A. & Torgler, Benno, 2014. "Variation in risk seeking behaviour following large losses: A natural experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 71(C), pages 121-131.
    8. Sujoy Mukerji & Robin Cubitt & Gijs van de Kuilen, 2014. "Discriminating between Models of Ambiguity Attitude: A Qualitative Test," Economics Series Working Papers 692, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    9. Paolo Crosetto & Antonio Filippin, 2013. "A Theoretical and Experimental Appraisal of Five Risk Elicitation Methods," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 547, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    10. repec:exc:wpaper:2013-05 is not listed on IDEAS

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