Risk Aversion as a Perceptual Bias
The theory of expected utility maximization (EUM) explains risk aversion as due to diminishing marginal utility of wealth. However, observed choices between risky lotteries are difficult to reconcile with EUM: for example, in the laboratory, subjects' responses on individual trials involve a random element, and cannot be predicted purely from the terms offered; and subjects often appear to be too risk averse with regard to small gambles (while still accepting sufficiently favorable large gambles) to be consistent with any utility-of-wealth function. We propose a unified explanation for both anomalies, similar to the explanation given for related phenomena in the case of perceptual judgments: they result from judgments based on imprecise (and noisy) mental representation of the decision situation. In this model, risk aversion is predicted without any need for a nonlinear utility-of-wealth function, and instead results from a sort of perceptual bias — but one that represents an optimal Bayesian decision, given the limitations of the mental representation of the situation. We propose a specific quantitative model of the mental representation of a simple lottery choice problem, based on other evidence regarding numerical cognition, and test its ability to explain the choice frequencies that we observe in a laboratory experiment.
If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.
|Date of creation:||Mar 2017|
|Contact details of provider:|| Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.|
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC
References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Frederick Mosteller & Philip Nogee, 1951. "An Experimental Measurement of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59, pages 371-371.
- Jakub Steiner & Colin Stewart, 2016.
"Perceiving Prospects Properly,"
American Economic Review,
American Economic Association, vol. 106(7), pages 1601-1631, July.
- Steiner, Jakub & Stewart, Colin, 2014. "Perceiving Prospects Properly," CEPR Discussion Papers 10123, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
- Jakub Steiner & Colin Stewart, 2014. "Perceiving Prospects Properly," ESE Discussion Papers 245, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
- Steiner, Jakub & Stewart, Colin, 2014. "Perceiving Prospects Properly," SIRE Discussion Papers 2015-39, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
- James Cox & Vjollca Sadiraj & Bodo Vogt & Utteeyo Dasgupta, 2013. "Is there a plausible theory for decision under risk? A dual calibration critique," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 54(2), pages 305-333, October.
- Friedman, Daniel & Isaac, R. Mark & James, Duncan & Sunder, Shyam, 2014. "Risky Curves: On the Empirical Failure of Expected Utility," Santa Cruz Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt87v8k86z, Department of Economics, UC Santa Cruz. Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)