Human Nature #9: Prospect Theory

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Wiser Daily

In the early 1980s, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tverskey proved in numerous experiments that the reality of decision making differed greatly from the assumptions held by economists. They published their findings in Prospect Theory: An analysis of decision making under risk, which quickly became one of the most cited papers in all of economics.

To understand the importance of their breakthrough, we first need to take a step back and explain a few things. Up until that point, economists were working under a normative model of decision making. A normative model is a prescriptive approach that concerns itself with how people should make optimal decisions. Basically, if everyone was rational, this is how they should act.

In contrast, prospect theory is a descriptive model which concerns itself with how decisions are actually made in practice. Let’s begin by dissecting the main normative model of the time: Utility theory.

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