Aspiration Level, Probability of Success and Failure, and Expected Utility

International Economic Review (2008) 49, 683-700

31 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2006

See all articles by Enrico Diecidue

Enrico Diecidue

INSEAD – Decision Sciences

Jeroen van de Ven

University of Amsterdam; Tinbergen Institute

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Several studies have shown that aspiration levels are a relevant aspect of decision making. We develop a model that takes this into account. We include the overall probabilities of success and failure, i.e. the probabilities of reaching and not reaching the aspiration level, into an expected utility representation. This turns out to be equivalent, in a mathematical sense, to expected utility with a discontinuous utility function. We give a behavioral foundation to the proposed model and provide conditions to determine the relative weights of the overall probabilities of success and failure. The model leads to several predictions that fit empirical evidence. Most notably, an aspiration level reinforces loss aversion, can account for simultaneous risk-averse and risk-seeking behavior, and can explain choices violating the mean-variance approach.

Keywords: expected utility, aspiration level, probability of success and failure, decision under risk

JEL Classification: D81, C60

Suggested Citation

Diecidue, Enrico and van de Ven, Jeroen, Aspiration Level, Probability of Success and Failure, and Expected Utility. International Economic Review (2008) 49, 683-700, Available at SSRN: or

Enrico Diecidue (Contact Author)

INSEAD – Decision Sciences ( email )


Jeroen Van de Ven

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB

Tinbergen Institute ( email )

Burg. Oudlaan 50
Rotterdam, 3062 PA

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