When Do Reference Points Update? A Field Analysis of the Effect of Prior Gains and Losses on Risk-Taking over Time
University of Zurich, Institute of Business Administration, UZH Business Working Paper No. 369
40 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 4, 2017
We study how temporal separations affect recurring decision-making under risk and thus ask when reference points update. Using both experimental and panel data from a casino, we analyze how individual risk-taking behavior during a casino visit depends on the outcomes of temporally separated prior visits. Our results show that small prior gains lead to more risk-averse behavior in the next visit, but small prior losses have no effect on subsequent risk-taking. These results suggest an asymmetric temporal effect of small prior gains and losses, whereby gains affect subsequent choices for longer than losses. Thus, the reference point — which determines subsequent risk-taking behavior — updates much faster after small losses than after small gains. Further, we find that risk-taking greatly depends on the size of prior outcomes. Whereas large prior losses also impact subsequent choices and strongly reduce risk-taking, large prior gains only have a marginal effect, if any.
Keywords: Decision-Making, Risk-Taking, Field Experiment, Longitudinal Data, Casino Gambling
JEL Classification: C23, C93, D81, D90
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation