Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Operations & Information Management
Joseph P. Simmons
How do people decide whether to incur costs to increase their likelihood of success? In investigating this question, we offer a theory called prospective outcome bias. According to this theory, people tend to make decisions that they expect to feel good about after the outcome has been realized. Because people expect to feel best about decisions that are followed by successes—even when the decisions did not cause those successes—they will pay more to increase their chances of success when success is already likely (e.g., people will pay more to increase their probability of success from 80% to 90% than from 10% to 20%). We find evidence for prospective outcome bias in nine experiments. In Study 1, we establish that people evaluate costly decisions that precede successes more favorably than costly decisions that precede failures, even when the decisions did not cause the outcome. Study 2 establishes, in an incentive-compatible laboratory setting, that people are more motivated to increase higher chances of success. Studies 3–5 generalize the effect to other contexts and decisions and Studies 6–8 indicate that prospective outcome bias causes it (rather than regret aversion, waste aversion, goals-as-reference-points, probability weighting, or loss aversion). Finally, in Study 9, we find evidence for another prediction of prospective outcome bias: people prefer small increases in the probability of large rewards (e.g., a 1% improvement in their chances of winning $100) to large increases in the probability of small rewards (e.g., a 10% improvement in their chances of winning $10).
Lewis, Joshua, "The Psychology Of Improvements" (2020). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 4192.