33 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2007 Last revised: 19 Aug 2008
Prospect theory scholars have identified important human decision-making biases, but they have been conspicuously silent on the question of the origin of these biases. Here we create a model that shows preferences consistent with prospect theory may have an origin in evolutionary psychology. Specifically, we derive a model from risk-sensitive optimal foraging theory to generate an explanation for the origin and function of context-dependent risk aversion and risk seeking behavior. Although this model suggests that human cognitive architecture evolved to solve particular adaptive problems related to finding sufficient food resources to survive, we argue that this same architecture persists and is utilized in other survival-related decisions that are critical to understanding political outcomes. In particular, we identify important departures from standard results when we incorporate prospect theory into theories of spatial voting and legislator behavior, international bargaining and conflict, and economic development and reform.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
McDermott, Rose and Fowler, James H. and Smirnov, Oleg, On the Evolutionary Origin of Prospect Theory Preferences. Journal of Politics, Vol. 70, No. 2, pp. 335-350, April 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1008034