Cautious expected utility and the certainty effect

Simone Cerreia-Vioglio, David Dillenberger, Pietro Ortoleva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Many violations of the independence axiom of expected utility can be traced to subjects' attraction to risk-free prospects. The key axiom in this paper, negative certainty independence ([Dillenberger, 2010]), formalizes this tendency. Our main result is a utility representation of all preferences over monetary lotteries that satisfy negative certainty independence together with basic rationality postulates. Such preferences can be represented as if the agent were unsure of how to evaluate a given lottery p; instead, she has in mind a set of possible utility functions over outcomes and displays a cautious behavior: she computes the certainty equivalent of p with respect to each possible function in the set and picks the smallest one. The set of utilities is unique in a well defined sense. We show that our representation can also be derived from a "cautious" completion of an incomplete preference relation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-728
Number of pages36
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics


  • Allais paradox
  • Cautious completion
  • Incomplete preferences
  • Multi-utility representation
  • Negative certainty independence
  • Preferences under risk


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