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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. 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.
  2. Ulrich Schmidt & Horst Zank, 2005. "What is Loss Aversion?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 30(2), pages 157-167, January.
  3. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  4. Nicholas BARBERIS & Ming HUANG & Tano SANTOS, 2000. "Prospect Theory and Asset Prices," FAME Research Paper Series rp16, International Center for Financial Asset Management and Engineering.
  5. Botond Koszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2005. "A Model of Reference-Dependent Preferences," Levine's Bibliography 784828000000000341, UCLA Department of Economics.
  6. Machina,Mark & Schmeidler,David, 1991. "A more robust definition of subjective probability," Discussion Paper Serie A 365, University of Bonn, Germany.
  7. Jose Apesteguia & Miguel Ballester, 2009. "A theory of reference-dependent behavior," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 40(3), pages 427-455, September.
  8. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
  9. Masatlioglu, Yusufcan & Ok, Efe A., 2005. "Rational choice with status quo bias," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 121(1), pages 1-29, March.
  10. Dana, Rose-Anne & Carlier, Guillaume, 2011. "Optimal Demand for Contingent Claims when Agents have law Invariant Utilities," Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine 123456789/2317, Paris Dauphine University.
  11. Harry Markowitz, 1952. "The Utility of Wealth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60, pages 151.
  12. Neilson, William S, 2002. " Comparative Risk Sensitivity with Reference-Dependent Preferences," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 131-42, March.
  13. Hadar, Josef & Russell, William R, 1969. "Rules for Ordering Uncertain Prospects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(1), pages 25-34, March.
  14. Benartzi, Shlomo & Thaler, Richard H, 1995. "Myopic Loss Aversion and the Equity Premium Puzzle," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(1), pages 73-92, February.
  15. Botond Koszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2009. "Reference-Dependent Consumption Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 909-36, June.
  16. 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.
  17. Bernard, Carole & Ghossoub, Mario, 2009. "Static Portfolio Choice under Cumulative Prospect Theory," MPRA Paper 15446, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  18. Botond Koszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2006. "Reference-Dependent Risk Attitudes," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000001267, UCLA Department of Economics.
  19. Rothschild, Michael & Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1970. "Increasing risk: I. A definition," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 225-243, September.
  20. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. " Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
  21. Machina Mark J. & Schmeidler David, 1995. "Bayes without Bernoulli: Simple Conditions for Probabilistically Sophisticated Choice," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 106-128, October.
  22. Bowman, David & Minehart, Deborah & Rabin, Matthew, 1999. "Loss aversion in a consumption-savings model," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 155-178, February.
  23. Frederick Mosteller & Philip Nogee, 1951. "An Experimental Measurement of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59, pages 371.
  24. Pavlo Blavatskyy, 2011. "Loss aversion," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 46(1), pages 127-148, January.
  25. Kobberling, Veronika & Wakker, Peter P., 2005. "An index of loss aversion," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 122(1), pages 119-131, May.
  26. 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.
  27. Knetsch, Jack L & Sinden, J A, 1984. "Willingness to Pay and Compensation Demanded: Experimental Evidence of an Unexpected Disparity in Measures of Value," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 99(3), pages 507-21, August.
  28. Ortoleva, Pietro, 2008. "Status Quo Bias, Multiple Priors and Uncertainty Aversion," MPRA Paper 12243, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  29. Wakker, Peter & Tversky, Amos, 1993. " An Axiomatization of Cumulative Prospect Theory," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 147-75, October.
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