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Using Neural Data to Test a Theory of Investor Behavior: An Application to Realization Utility

Author

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  • Cary Frydman
  • Nicholas Barberis
  • Colin Camerer
  • Peter Bossaerts
  • Antonio Rangel

Abstract

We use measures of neural activity provided by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test the "realization utility" theory of investor behavior, which posits that people derive utility directly from the act of realizing gains and losses. Subjects traded stocks in an experimental market while we measured their brain activity. We find that all subjects exhibit a strong disposition effect in their trading, even though it is suboptimal. Consistent with the realization utility explanation for this behavior, we find that activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area known to encode the value of options during choices, correlates with the capital gains of potential trades; that the neural measures of realization utility correlate across subjects with their individual tendency to exhibit a disposition effect; and that activity in the ventral striatum, an area known to encode information about changes in the present value of experienced utility, exhibits a positive response when subjects realize capital gains. These results provide support for the realization utility model and, more generally, demonstrate how neural data can be helpful in testing models of investor behavior.

Suggested Citation

  • Cary Frydman & Nicholas Barberis & Colin Camerer & Peter Bossaerts & Antonio Rangel, 2012. "Using Neural Data to Test a Theory of Investor Behavior: An Application to Realization Utility," NBER Working Papers 18562, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18562
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kohsaka Youki & Grzegorz Mardyla & Shinji Takenaka & Yoshiro Tsutsui, 2013. "Disposition Effect and Diminishing Sensitivity: An Analysis Based on a Simulated Experimental Stock Market," Discussion Papers in Economics and Business 13-02-Rev.2, Osaka University, Graduate School of Economics and Osaka School of International Public Policy (OSIPP), revised Sep 2014.
    2. Urs Fischbacher & Gerson Hoffmann & Simeon Schudy, 2017. "The Causal Effect of Stop-Loss and Take-Gain Orders on the Disposition Effect," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 30(6), pages 2110-2129.
    3. Haita-Falah, Corina, 2017. "Sunk-cost fallacy and cognitive ability in individual decision-making," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 44-59.
    4. David Hirshleife, 2015. "Behavioral Finance," Annual Review of Financial Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 7(1), pages 133-159, December.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G02 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Behavioral Finance: Underlying Principles
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions

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