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Shunning Uncertainty: The Neglect of Learning Opportunities


  • Zeckhauser, Richard Jay
  • Trautmann, Stefan T


Financial, managerial, and medical decisions often involve alternatives whose possible outcomes have uncertain probabilities. In contrast to alternatives whose probabilities are known, these uncertain alternatives offer the benefits of learning. In repeat-choice situations, such learning brings value. If probabilities appear favorable (unfavorable), a choice can be repeated (avoided). In a series of experiments involving bets on the colors of poker chips drawn from bags, decision makers often prove to be blind to the learning opportunities offered by uncertain probabilities. Such decision makers violate rational decision making and forgo significant expected payoffs when they shun uncertain alternatives in favor of risky ones. Worse, when information is revealed, many make choices contrary to learning. A range of factors explain these violations. The results indicate that priming with optimal strategies offers little improvement.

Suggested Citation

  • Zeckhauser, Richard Jay & Trautmann, Stefan T, 2011. "Shunning Uncertainty: The Neglect of Learning Opportunities," Scholarly Articles 5347068, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:hrv:hksfac:5347068

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Eyal Ert & Stefan Trautmann, 2014. "Sampling experience reverses preferences for ambiguity," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 49(1), pages 31-42, August.
    2. W. Kip Viscusi & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 2015. "Regulating Ambiguous Risks: The Less than Rational Regulation of Pharmaceuticals," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(S2), pages 387-422.
    3. Konstantinos Georgalos, 2016. "Dynamic decision making under ambiguity," Working Papers 112111041, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    4. Oechssler, Jörg & Roomets, Alex, 2015. "A test of mechanical ambiguity," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 153-162.
    5. Ferdinand M. Vieider & Mathieu Lefebvre & Ranoua Bouchouicha & Thorsten Chmura & Rustamdjan Hakimov & Michal Krawczyk & Peter Martinsson, 2015. "Common Components Of Risk And Uncertainty Attitudes Across Contexts And Domains: Evidence From 30 Countries," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 13(3), pages 421-452, June.
    6. Roy, Devjani & Zeckhauser, Richard, 2013. "Ignorance: Lessons from the Laboratory of Literature," Working Paper Series rwp13-039, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    7. Larry G. Epstein & Shaolin Ji, 2017. "Optimal Learning and Ellsberg's Urns," Papers 1708.01890,

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior

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