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Towards a Purely Behavioral Definition of Loss Aversion

  • Ghossoub, Mario

This paper suggests a behavioral, preference-based definition of loss aversion for decision under risk. This definition is based on the initial intuition of Markowitz [30] and Kahneman and Tversky [19] that most individuals dislike symmetric bets, and that the aversion to such bets increases with the size of the stake. A natural interpretation of this intuition leads to defining loss aversion as a particular kind of risk aversion. The notions of weak loss aversion and strong loss aversion are introduced, by analogy to the notions of weak and strong risk aversion. I then show how the proposed definitions naturally extend those of Kahneman and Tversky [19], Schmidt and Zank [48], and Zank [54]. The implications of these definitions under Cumulative Prospect Theory (PT) and Expected-Utility Theory (EUT) are examined. In particular, I show that in EUT loss aversion is not equivalent to the utility function having an S shape: loss aversion in EUT holds for a class of utility functions that includes S-shaped functions, but is strictly larger than the collection of these functions. This class also includes utility functions that are of the Friedman-Savage [14] type over both gains and losses, and utility functions such as the one postulated by Markowitz [30]. Finally, I discuss possible ways in which one can define an index of loss aversion for preferences that satisfy certain conditions. These conditions are satisfied by preferences having a PT-representation or an EUT-representation. Under PT, the proposed index is shown to coincide with Kobberling and Wakker’s [22] index of loss aversion only when the probability weights for gains and losses are equal. In Appendix B, I consider some extensions of the study done in this paper, one of which is an extension to situations of decision under uncertainty with probabilistically sophisticated preferences, in the sense of Machina and Schmeidler [27].

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 37628.

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Date of creation: 11 Aug 2011
Date of revision: 23 Mar 2012
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:37628
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  1. Harry Markowitz, 1952. "The Utility of Wealth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60, pages 151.
  2. Wakker, Peter & Tversky, Amos, 1993. "An Axiomatization of Cumulative Prospect Theory," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 147-75, October.
  3. Masatlioglu, Yusufcan & Ok, Efe A., 2005. "Rational choice with status quo bias," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 121(1), pages 1-29, March.
  4. Neilson, William S, 2002. "Comparative Risk Sensitivity with Reference-Dependent Preferences," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 131-42, March.
  5. Jose Apesteguia & Miguel Ballester, 2009. "A theory of reference-dependent behavior," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 40(3), pages 427-455, September.
  6. Botond Koszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2006. "Reference-Dependent Risk Attitudes," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000001267, UCLA Department of Economics.
  7. Wakker,Peter P., 2010. "Prospect Theory," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521765015, November.
  8. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1992. "Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 297-323, October.
  9. Frederick Mosteller & Philip Nogee, 1951. "An Experimental Measurement of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59, pages 371.
  10. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. "Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
  11. R. Mehra & E. Prescott, 2010. "The equity premium: a puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1401, David K. Levine.
  12. Kobberling, Veronika & Wakker, Peter P., 2005. "An index of loss aversion," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 122(1), pages 119-131, May.
  13. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  14. Shlomo Benartzi & Richard H. Thaler, 1995. "Myopic Loss Aversion and the Equity Premium Puzzle," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 73-92.
  15. Koszegi, Botond & Rabin, Matthew, 2004. "A Model of Reference-Dependent Preferences," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt0w82b6nm, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  16. U Schmidt & H Zank, 2002. "What is Loss Aversion?," The School of Economics Discussion Paper Series 0209, Economics, The University of Manchester.
  17. Efe A. Ok & Pietro Ortoleva & Gil Riella, 2015. "Revealed (P)Reference Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(1), pages 299-321, January.
  18. repec:dau:papers:123456789/2317 is not listed on IDEAS
  19. Pavlo Blavatskyy, 2011. "Loss aversion," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 46(1), pages 127-148, January.
  20. Bernard, Carole & Ghossoub, Mario, 2009. "Static Portfolio Choice under Cumulative Prospect Theory," MPRA Paper 15446, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  21. Mark J. Machina & David Schmeidler, 1994. "Bayes Without Bernoulli: Simple Conditions for Probabilistically Sophisticated Choice," Discussion Papers 1088, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  22. Nicholas Barberis & Ming Huang & Tano Santos, 2001. "Prospect Theory and Asset Prices," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 1-53.
  23. Botond Koszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2009. "Reference-Dependent Consumption Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 909-36, June.
  24. David Bowman & Deborah Minehart & Matthew Rabin, 1994. "Loss aversion in a consumption/savings model," International Finance Discussion Papers 492, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  25. Hadar, Josef & Russell, William R, 1969. "Rules for Ordering Uncertain Prospects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(1), pages 25-34, March.
  26. Ortoleva, Pietro, 2010. "Status quo bias, multiple priors and uncertainty aversion," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 69(2), pages 411-424, July.
  27. Mark J. Machina & David Schmeidler, 1990. "A More Robust Definition of Subjective Probability," Discussion Paper Serie A 306, University of Bonn, Germany.
  28. Jack L. Knetsch & J. A. Sinden, 1984. "Willingness to Pay and Compensation Demanded: Experimental Evidence of an Unexpected Disparity in Measures of Value," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(3), pages 507-521.
  29. Xue Dong He & Xun Yu Zhou, 2011. "Portfolio Choice Under Cumulative Prospect Theory: An Analytical Treatment," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 57(2), pages 315-331, February.
  30. Rothschild, Michael & Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1970. "Increasing risk: I. A definition," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 225-243, September.
  31. Milton Friedman & L. J. Savage, 1948. "The Utility Analysis of Choices Involving Risk," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56, pages 279.
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