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Optimism and Pessimism with Expected Utility, Third Version


  • David Dillenberger

    () (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Andrew Postlewaite

    () (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Kareen Rozen

    () (Department of Economics, Yale University)


Savage (1954) provides axioms on preferences over acts that are equivalent to the existence of a subjective expected utility representation. We show that there is a continuum of other \expected utility" representations in which for any act, the probability distribution over states depends on the corresponding outcomes and is first-order stochastically dominated by (dominates) the Savage distribution. We suggest that pessimism (optimism) can be captured by the stake-dependent probabilities in these alternate representations. We then extend the DM's preferences to be defined over both subjective acts and objective lotteries. Our result permits modeling ambiguity aversion in Ellsberg's two-urn experiment using pessimistic probability assessments, the same utility over prizes for lotteries and acts, and without relaxing Savage's axioms. An implication of our results is that the large body of existing research based on expected utility can, with a simple reinterpretation, be understood as modeling the behavior of optimistic or pessimistic decision makers.

Suggested Citation

  • David Dillenberger & Andrew Postlewaite & Kareen Rozen, 2011. "Optimism and Pessimism with Expected Utility, Third Version," PIER Working Paper Archive 13-001, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 26 Dec 2012.
  • Handle: RePEc:pen:papers:13-001

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    References listed on IDEAS

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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.

    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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