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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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  12. 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.
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  14. 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.
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  17. Bosch-Domenech, Antoni & Silvestre, Joaquim, 1999. "Does risk aversion or attraction depend on income? An experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 265-273, December.
  18. 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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  26. 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.
  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.
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