Deciding about human lives: an experimental measure of risk attitudes under prospect theory


Social Choice and Welfare

A paraître

Départements : Economie et Sciences de la décision, GREGHEC (CNRS)

For public policies in the health, security or safety domains, the main consequences concern the number of human lives that are saved or lost, and are uncertain ex-ante. In classic economic evaluations of such policies, losses and gains of human lives are often monetized and aggregated with other costs and benefits. Uncertainty about human lives is thus treated as uncertainty about monetary consequences. In this paper, we question whether people risk human lives as they risk money.We present an experiment comparing risk attitudes towards human lives and towards money under prospect theory. The results show that respondents treat the two attributes differently when losses are involved. Specifically, the decisions involving human lives are characterizedby less elevated probability weighting in the loss domain and higher loss aversion compared to decisions involving money. These findings suggest that public preferences may differ from the cost-benefit analysis recommendations