Keep or trade? Effects of pay-off range on decisions with the two-envelopes problem

Thinking and Reasoning 20 (4):472-499 (2014)
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The "two-envelopes" problem has stimulated much discussion on probabilistic reasoning, but relatively little experimentation. The problem specifies two identical envelopes, one of which contains twice as much money as the other. You are given one of the envelopes and the option of keeping it or trading for the other envelope. Variables of interest include the possible amounts of money involved, what is known about the process by which the amounts of money were assigned to the envelopes, and whether you are allowed to know how much money is in the envelope in hand before deciding whether to keep or trade. In an earlier study, Butler and Nickerson found that when participants were allowed to know how much was in the envelope in hand, they generally elected to trade if that amount was small relative to the range of possibilities and to keep otherwise. The present experiments showed that this propensity was independent of the amount of money in the envelopes. Participants made decisions with a strong bias for avoiding the risk of losing by trading, particularly when the amount in hand was known and large relative to the range of possible amounts, regardless of the absolute value of the gamble. The results illustrate the dependence of thinking on the context in which it occurs, and demonstrate a tendency to treat quantities that are large or small relative to a particular context in which they are encountered as though they were large or small in a more general sense



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Susan Butler
High Point University

Citations of this work

Probabilistic reasoning in the two-envelope problem.Bruce D. Burns - 2015 - Thinking and Reasoning 21 (3):295-316.

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