Theory and Decision

, Volume 68, Issue 1–2, pp 115–148 | Cite as

A parametric analysis of prospect theory’s functionals for the general population

  • Adam S. Booij
  • Bernard M. S. van Praag
  • Gijs van de Kuilen
Open Access


This article presents the results of an experiment that completely measures the utility function and probability weighting function for different positive and negative monetary outcomes, using a representative sample of N = 1,935 from the general public. The results confirm earlier findings in the lab, suggesting that utility is less pronounced than what is found in classical measurements where expected utility is assumed. Utility for losses is found to be convex, consistent with diminishing sensitivity, and the obtained loss-aversion coefficient of 1.6 is moderate but in agreement with contemporary evidence. The estimated probability weighting functions have an inverse-S shape and they imply pessimism in both domains. These results show that probability weighting is also an important phenomenon in the general population. Women and lower educated individuals are found to be more risk averse, in agreement with common findings. In contrast to previous studies that ascribed gender differences in risk attitudes solely to differences in the degree utility curvature, however, our results show that this finding is primarily driven by loss aversion and, for women, also by a more pessimistic psychological response toward the probability of obtaining the best possible outcome.


Prospect theory Utility for gains and losses Loss aversion Subjective probability weighting 



We thank Peter P. Wakker, Gregory Jolivet, and Sebastien Roux for their respective helpful comments and suggestions, and CentERdata, in particular Vera Toepoel, for programming the experiment and providing the data.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam S. Booij
    • 1
  • Bernard M. S. van Praag
    • 2
  • Gijs van de Kuilen
    • 3
  1. 1.Amsterdam School of EconomicsAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Amsterdam School of Economics, Tinbergen Institute, Cesifo, IZA, DIWAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.TIBER, CentER, Tilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands

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