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The 'Rationality' of the Long Distance Runner: Prospect Theory and the Marathon

52 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2013  

Eric J. Allen

University of Southern California - Leventhal School of Accounting

Patricia M. Dechow

University of Southern California - Leventhal School of Accounting; University of California, Berkeley - Accounting Group

Date Written: October 9, 2013

Abstract

We examine whether marathon runners exhibit behavior consistent with the assumptions of prospect theory. We test whether round number finishing times (three hours, four hours, etc.) are used as reference points and whether runners increase their effort at the end of the race to avoid the “loss” of missing the reference point. While we find that all runners exhibit evidence of reference dependence and loss aversion with regard to the hypothesized reference points, we find that males act more in line with the predictions of prospect theory than females. First, we find more extreme bunching of finish times at round numbers in the male distribution. We also find that males are more likely than females to speed up when doing so will help them meet a round number finish time. We then investigate whether Boston Marathon qualifying times are used as reference points for “elite” runners. In contrast to our results for round number finishing times, we find that elite female runners act in a similar manner to elite males and exert similar effort at the end of the race to meet these reference points. This suggests that females who endure the training to become elite runners have similar competitive profiles to males.

Keywords: marathon, prospect theory, loss aversion, reference points, gender differences

JEL Classification: A1, D03, I1,M3, M4, J3, D8

Suggested Citation

Allen, Eric J. and Dechow, Patricia M., The 'Rationality' of the Long Distance Runner: Prospect Theory and the Marathon (October 9, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2342396 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2342396

Eric J. Allen (Contact Author)

University of Southern California - Leventhal School of Accounting ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90089-0441
United States

Patricia M. Dechow

University of Southern California - Leventhal School of Accounting ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90089-0441
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Accounting Group ( email )

Haas School of Business
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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