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Averting risk in the face of large losses: Bernoulli vs. Tversky and Kahneman

We experimentally question the assertion of Prospect Theory that people display risk attraction in choices involving high-probability losses. Indeed, our experimental participants tend to avoid fair risks for large (up to € 90), high-probability (80%) losses. Our research hinges on a novel experimental method designed to alleviate the house-money bias that pervades experiments with real (not hypothetical) loses. Our results vindicate Daniel Bernoulli’s view that risk aversion is the dominant attitude, But, contrary to the Bernoulli-inspired canonical expected utility theory, we do find frequent risk attraction for small amounts of money at stake. In any event, we attempt neither to test expected utility versus nonexpected utility theories, nor to contribute to the important literature that estimates value and weighting functions. The question that we ask is more basic, namely: do people display risk aversion when facing large losses, or large gains? And, at the risk of oversimplifying, our answer is yes.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 932.

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Date of creation: Jan 2006
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Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:932
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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  1. 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.
  2. Dan J. Laughhunn & John W. Payne & Roy Crum, 1980. "Managerial Risk Preferences for Below-Target Returns," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 26(12), pages 1238-1249, December.
  3. 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.
  4. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  5. Antoni Bosch-Domènech & Joaquim Silvestre, 2002. "Reflections on gains and losses: A 2x2x7 experiment," Economics Working Papers 640, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Feb 2005.
  6. Lucy F. Ackert & Narat Charupat & Bryan K. Church & James Tompkins & Richard Deaves, 2003. "An experimental examination of the house money effect in a multi-period setting," Working Paper 2003-13, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Nathalie Etchart-Vincent, 2004. "Is Probability Weighting Sensitive to the Magnitude of Consequences? An Experimental Investigation on Losses," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 28(3), pages 217-235, 05.
  10. Camerer, Colin F & Ho, Teck-Hua, 1994. "Violations of the Betweenness Axiom and Nonlinearity in Probability," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 167-96, March.
  11. Jeremy Clark, 2002. "House Money Effects in Public Good Experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 223-231, December.
  12. Weber, Martin & Zuchel, Heiko, 2001. "How Do Prior Outcomes Affect Risky Choice? Further Evidence on the House-Money Effect and Escalation of Commitment," Sonderforschungsbereich 504 Publications 01-48, Sonderforschungsbereich 504, Universität Mannheim;Sonderforschungsbereich 504, University of Mannheim.
  13. 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.
  14. Peter Brooks & Horst Zank, 2005. "Loss Averse Behavior," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 31(3), pages 301-325, December.
  15. Abdellaoui, Mohammed & Vossman, Frank & Weber, Martin, 2003. "Choice-Based Elicitation and Decomposition of Decision Weights for Gains and Losses Under Uncertainty," CEPR Discussion Papers 3756, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  16. 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.
  17. Charles A. Holt & Susan K. Laury, 2005. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects: New Data without Order Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 902-912, June.
  18. 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.
  19. Robin M. Hogarth & Hillel J. Einhorn, 1990. "Venture Theory: A Model of Decision Weights," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 36(7), pages 780-803, July.
  20. Hans Binswanger, 1980. "Attitudes toward risk: Experimental measurement in rural india," Artefactual Field Experiments 00009, The Field Experiments Website.
  21. 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.
  22. Drazen Prelec, 1998. "The Probability Weighting Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(3), pages 497-528, May.
  23. Mohammed Abdellaoui, 2000. "Parameter-Free Elicitation of Utility and Probability Weighting Functions," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 46(11), pages 1497-1512, November.
  24. Moshe Levy & Haim Levy, 2002. "Prospect Theory: Much Ado About Nothing?," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 48(10), pages 1334-1349, October.
  25. John Dickhaut & Kevin McCabe & Jennifer C. Nagode & Aldo Rustichini & Kip Smith & Jose Pardo, 2002. "The impact of the certainty context on the process of choice," CEEL Working Papers 0216, Cognitive and Experimental Economics Laboratory, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
  26. Charles Mason & Jason Shogren & Chad Settle & John List, 2005. "Investigating Risky Choices Over Losses Using Experimental Data," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 31(2), pages 187-215, September.
  27. Peter Wakker & Daniel Deneffe, 1996. "Eliciting von Neumann-Morgenstern Utilities When Probabilities Are Distorted or Unknown," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 42(8), pages 1131-1150, August.
  28. George Wu & Richard Gonzalez, 1996. "Curvature of the Probability Weighting Function," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 42(12), pages 1676-1690, December.
  29. 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.
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