Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 67–83 | Cite as

Prospect theory and the “forgotten” fourfold pattern of risk preferences

  • Marc Scholten
  • Daniel Read


Markowitz (Journal of Political Economy 60:151–158, 1952) identified a fourfold pattern of risk preferences in outcome magnitude: When outcomes are large, people are risk averse in gains and risk seeking in losses, but risk preferences reverse when the outcomes are small, with people exhibiting risk seeking in gains and risk aversion in losses. This fourfold pattern was not addressed by either version of prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky Econometrica 47:363–391, 1979; Tversky and Kahneman Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 5:297–323, 1992). We show how prospect theory can accommodate the pattern by combining an overweighting of low probabilities with a decreasingly elastic value function. We then examine the performance of prospect theory with two decreasingly elastic value functions: Prospect theory performs better, both quantitatively and qualitatively, with a normalized logarithmic value function than with a normalized exponential value function. We discuss several issues, and speculate about why Tversky and Kahneman did not address Markowitz’s fourfold pattern.


Risk aversion Risk seeking Gains Losses Fourfold patterns of risk preferences Markowitz Prospect theory 

JEL Classifications

C51 C52 C91 D03 D90 



This work was supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia [project POCI 2010; grant numbers PTDC/PSI-PCO/101447/2008, PTDC/MHC-PCN/3805/2012], by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/K002201/1], and by the Leverhulme Trust [grant number RP2012-V-022]. Our article has greatly benefited from comments given by Peter Wakker.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European UniversityLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Warwick Business SchoolCoventryUK

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