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Reflections on gains and losses: A 2x2x7 experiment

We test whether risk attitudes change when losses instead of gains are involved. The study of gain-loss asymmetries has been largely confined to “reflected” choices, where all the money amounts of a positive prospect are multiplied by minus one. We define the decomposition “reflection = translation + probability switch,” and experimentally find both a translation effect (risk attraction becomes more frequent when gains are translated into losses) and a probability switch effect (risk attraction becomes more frequent when the probability of the best outcome decreases). Surprisingly, the switch effect is somewhat stronger than the translation effect, negating a conventional reflection effect when one starts with choices between gains with a low probability of the best outcome. We conclude by arguing that, while both the translation effect and the switch effect contradict the expected utility hypothesis, the translation effect implies a deeper violation of standard preference theory.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 640.

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Date of creation: Sep 2002
Date of revision: Feb 2005
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:640
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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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. Larson, Douglas M., 1992. "Further results on willingness to pay for nonmarket goods," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 101-122, September.
  3. Antoni Bosch-Domènech & Joaquim Silvestre, 1999. "Does risk aversion or attraction depend on income? An experiment," Economics Working Papers 361, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Mar 1999.
  4. William Harbaugh & Kate Krause & Lise Vesterlund, 2002. "Risk Attitudes of Children and Adults: Choices Over Small and Large Probability Gains and Losses," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 5(1), pages 53-84, June.
  5. Mark J Machina, 1982. ""Expected Utility" Analysis without the Independence Axiom," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7650, David K. Levine.
  6. Richard H. Thaler & Eric J. Johnson, 1990. "Gambling with the House Money and Trying to Break Even: The Effects of Prior Outcomes on Risky Choice," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 36(6), pages 643-660, June.
  7. Antoni Bosch-Domènech & Joaquim Silvestre, 2003. "Do the eealthy risk more money? An experimental comparison," Economics Working Papers 692, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jan 2005.
  8. Charles A. Holt & Susan K. Laury, 2002. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1644-1655, December.
  9. Mikhail & Plott, Charles R., 1995. "Exchange Economies and Loss Exposure: Experiments Exploring Prospect Theory and Competitive Equilibria in Market Environments," Working Papers 909, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  10. Robin M. Hogarth & Hillel J. Einhorn, 1990. "Venture Theory: A Model of Decision Weights," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 36(7), pages 780-803, July.
  11. Quiggin, John, 1982. "A theory of anticipated utility," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 323-343, December.
  12. Susan K. Laury & Charles A. Holt, 2005. "Further Reflections on Prospect Theory," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2006-23, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
  13. Harry Markowitz, 1952. "The Utility of Wealth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60, pages 151.
  14. Keasey, Kevin & Moon, Philip, 1996. "Gambling with the house money in capital expenditure decisions: An experimental analysis," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 105-110, January.
  15. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
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