The role of forgone opportunities in decision making under risk
We present two experiments designed to study the role of forgone opportunities in decision making under risk. In the first one, we face individuals with a dynamic environment in which their decisions, together with chance, determine their future options. We find that previously faced opportunities influence subsequent choices in predictable ways. Having faced worse options in the past significantly increases individuals’ risk aversion and having faced better options reduces it. These patterns are at odds with most existing decision theories, including Expected Utility Theory and standard implementations of Prospect Theory, the dominant models of economic decision making. In our second experiment, we present participants with a similar decision environment, but in which the opportunities they face do not depend on their past choices. The effect of previously faced options on decision behavior in this environment is considerably reduced. This shows that being responsible for forgoing opportunities is an important factor in their influence on behavior, which underscores the relevance of emotions linked to counterfactual thinking, like regret or satisfaction. These results highlight that theories formulated in cognitive terms are not enough to provide an adequate account of the role of forgone opportunities in decision making under risk and uncertainty.
KeywordsDecision making under risk Path-dependence Reference-dependence Counterfactual thinking Emotions
JEL ClassificationsC91 D03 D81
The authors would like to thank Michael Birnbaum, Pablo Brañas-Garza, Nikolaos Georgantzis, Ganna Pogrebna, and Neil Stewart for their valuable comments. Financial support by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (ECO2011-23634), the Bank of Spain Chair in Computational Economics (11I229.01/1), and the Generalitat Valenciana (ACOMP/2013/224) is gratefully acknowledged.
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