Theory-Experimental Seminar

Larbi Alaoui



webinar – 14:30


While personality has long been central to the study of psychology, it is only recently that it has drawn attention in economics, and it has done so mainly from an empirical perspective. Traits related to attitudes towards success and failure appear particularly important for economic contexts. Currently, however, we do not have a clear definition of such attitudes in terms of preferences, in a way analogous to attitude towards risk or time. This paper proposes definitions of failure avoidance, success seeking, and related but separate attitudes towards failure and success, in terms of individuals’ preferences over lotteries. Within a standard expected utility framework, appended with a reference point, we characterize properties of the Bernoulli utility functions associated with such attitudes. These properties concern: (i) the relationship between the curvature of the utility functions in the failure and the success regions; (ii) the shape of function at the reference point, which may either exhibit a discontinuity or different shape of kinks. We also show that failure avoidance accommodates, as a special case, the well-known notion of loss aversion (e.g., Kahneman and Tversky, 1979), which we characterize in terms of primitive preferences over lotteries, while success seeking includes a representation sometimes used in models of aspirations (e.g., Genicot and Ray, 2017). Lastly, we turn to comparative statics: we define the meaning of having more or less of each of these attitudes in the space of the primitive preferences over lotteries, and we characterize such orderings in terms of tractable indices based on the key features of the utility representations.

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