Risk Taking, Laboratory Experiments, and Prospect Theory

Stock market dice roll, May 18, 2018 | © Courtesy of QuoteInspector.com/Flickr.
Stock market dice roll, May 18, 2018 | © Courtesy of QuoteInspector.com/Flickr.

On September 25, 2018, Klára Faragó and Ajna Uatkánhas have published an article titled “Risk Taking with Variable Resources: a Field and a Laboratory Experiment” in Open Psychology.

A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.


In their paper, Klára Faragó and Ajna Uatkánhas have explored “the relationship between risk taking and accumulated resources” (36), while comparing ““real life” and laboratory experiments assessing risk taking” (36). Since the “two experimental setups [have] yielded different results” (36), this article contributes to the scholarship centering around “Kahneman and Tversky’s prospect theory, [according to which,] when people evaluate a risky prospect, their asset position serves as a reference point  (Kahneman and Tversky 1979)” (36).

As these authors summarize, “[t]he prospect theory predicts that people tend to be risk averse in the domain of gains (i.e., people with abundant resources will protect their assets), whereas risk seeking prevails in the domain of losses (i.e., people with scarce resources will take risks)” (36). Other scholars, such as Thaler (1994), have argued that “people with abundant resources will take risks because they can afford it” (36). As these researchers further highlight, “[r]isk taking has been studied mostly in laboratory situations evaluating choices between certain and risky alternatives. However, the predictive power of laboratory measures of risk taking to behaviour across domains is limited (Dohmen, Falk, Huffman, Sunde, & Wagner, 2011; Anderson & Mellor, 2009)” (37).

In the study of Faragó and Uatkánhas, “106 undergraduate students (65 females) from two business schools, between the ages of 18 and 25” (39) have taken part.  The results of these authors “support March and Shapira’s theory predicting higher and more stable risk taking with abundant resources, and erratic risk-averse behaviour at the survival point” (45). Based on their field study findings, the authors have concluded that “people with large reserves are motivated to take more risks and that the context does not fundamentally influence their behaviour” (51). However, this research also shows that “the parallel laboratory experiments gave an entirely different result, showing that […] the abundant resources led to decreased risk taking and the scarcity of resources induced a risk-prone behaviour” (51).

These findings “call into question the relevance of laboratory results of risk taking […], especially in […] situations, where strong motivations and serious consequences prevail” (51).

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Stock market dice roll, May 18, 2018 | © Courtesy of QuoteInspector.com/Flickr.


Cite this article as: Pablo Markin, "Risk Taking, Laboratory Experiments, and Prospect Theory," in Open Economics Blog, 24/08/2019, https://oeb.hypotheses.org/1057.

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