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An Economic Approach to the Psychology of Change: Amnesia, Inertia, and Impulsiveness

  • David Hirshleifer
  • Ivo Welch

This paper models how imperfect memory affects the optimal continuity of policies. We examine the choices of a player (individual or firm) who observes previous actions but cannot remember the rationale for these actions. In a stable environment, the player optimally responds to memory loss with excess inertia, defined as a higher probability of following old policies than would occur under full recall. In a volatile environment, the player can exhibit excess impulsiveness (i.e., be more prone to follow new information signals). The model provides a memory-loss explanation for some documented psychological biases, implies that inertia and organizational routines should be more important instable environments than in volatile ones, and provides other empirical implications relating memory and environmental variables to the continuity of decisions.

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File URL: http://icfpub.som.yale.edu/publications/2556
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Paper provided by Yale School of Management in its series Yale School of Management Working Papers with number ysm185.

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Date of creation: 01 May 2001
Date of revision: 01 Aug 2009
Handle: RePEc:ysm:somwrk:ysm185
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://icf.som.yale.edu/

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  1. George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2001. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," General Economics and Teaching 0012003, EconWPA.
  2. Bikhchandani, Sushil & Hirshleifer, David & Welch, Ivo, 1992. "A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change in Informational Cascades," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(5), pages 992-1026, October.
  3. Donald C. Hambrick & Richard A. D'Aveni, 1992. "Top Team Deterioration as Part of the Downward Spiral of Large Corporate Bankruptcies," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 38(10), pages 1445-1466, October.
  4. Smith, L, 1996. "Social Learning in a Changing World," Working papers 96-34, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  5. Kuran, Timur, 1987. "Preference Falsification, Policy Continuity and Collective Conservatism," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(387), pages 642-65, September.
  6. Cohen, Wesley M & Klepper, Steven, 1996. "A Reprise of Size and R&D," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(437), pages 925-51, July.
  7. Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "A Memory-Based Model Of Bounded Rationality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 735-774, August.
  8. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2001. "THE POWER OF SUGGESTION: INERTIA IN 401(k) PARTICIPATION AND SAVINGS BEHAVIOR," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187, November.
  9. Rasmusen, Eric, 1992. "Managerial Conservatism and Rational Information Acquisition," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 175-201, Spring.
  10. Akerlof, George A & Dickens, William T, 1982. "The Economic Consequences of Cognitive Dissonance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(3), pages 307-19, June.
  11. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-48, December.
  12. Avinash Dixit, 1992. "Investment and Hysteresis," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 107-132, Winter.
  13. Acs, Zoltan J & Audretsch, David B, 1988. "Innovation in Large and Small Firms: An Empirical Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 678-90, September.
  14. Banerjee, Abhijit V, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817, August.
  15. Dow, James, 1991. "Search Decisions with Limited Memory," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(1), pages 1-14, January.
  16. Arkes, Hal R. & Blumer, Catherine, 1985. "The psychology of sunk cost," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 124-140, February.
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