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Psychological Impediments to Retirement Planning Elke U. Weber Center for the Decision Sciences Columbia University Dartmouth College Financial Education.

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Presentation on theme: "Psychological Impediments to Retirement Planning Elke U. Weber Center for the Decision Sciences Columbia University Dartmouth College Financial Education."— Presentation transcript:

1 Psychological Impediments to Retirement Planning Elke U. Weber Center for the Decision Sciences Columbia University Dartmouth College Financial Education Workshop October 2005

2 Retirement Planning and Investing as Risk Management Economic and social costs of insufficient savings or suboptimal investments are huge –Personal as well as societal implications Yet, few of us lose sleep over it –True for general public, politicians, and even experts/researchers/practitioners who know better

3 Preview Why aren’t people motivated to engage in retirement planning? –Motivational impediment: insufficient fear Assuming we could motivate them to care, would/could they do a good job? –Other (cognitive and affective) impediments Financial education and policy implications

4 Two processing systems Epstein, 1994; Kahneman, 2002; Sloman, 1996; and others Analytic, algorithmic, rational, rule-based system –effortful, slow, requires conscious awareness, and knowledge of rules –e.g., probability calculus, Bayesian updating, formal logic Association- and similarity-based system –evolutionarily older, hard-wired, fast, automatic greater emphasis on outcomes than probabilities emotions as a powerful class of associations –two systems operate (in parallel) joint operation rises to awareness only when system output is in conflict when output of systems in conflict, behavior typically determined by associative/affective processing system –(Loewenstein, Weber, Hsee & Welch, 2001)

5 Motivational impediments to Retirement Planning Affect is the wellspring of action –Emotions are evolution’s way to get us to do things that are good for our survival and reproductive success Positive emotions want to be maintained Negative emotions (fear, anxiety) act as an early warning system that triggers protective action –“…woe speaks: ‘cease, go,’ but all lust wants eternity, wants deep, deep, deep eternity…” Nietzsche –Without feeling of being at risk, we fail to allocate attentional and material resources to risk management

6 Affective or visceral reactions to the risks of inadequate pension savings are low –Psychological risk dimensions shape risk perception in health and safety situations Reducible to two dimensions: predictability and dread (Fischhoff, Slovic, Lichtenstein, Read, & Combs, 1978; Slovic, 1987) “Dread”/affective component predicts risk perceptions of financial investments by U Chicago MBA students above and beyond probability distribution of possible outcomes –Holtgrave & Weber, 1993 –Risk of inadequate pension-saving scores low on both psychological risk dimensions thus fail to elicit subjective feeling of being at risk


8 Should we scare people into worrying (more) about their old-age financial security? Two downsides to affect-based decisions –Finite pool of worry effect As concern about one type of risk increases, worry about other risks decreases Capacity to worry seems to be relatively fixed and takes time to regenerate (Linville & Fischer, 1991; Hansen, Marx, Weber, 2004) Raising worry/concern in one area by making it vivid or concrete may decrease or displace valid concerns in other domains –Terrorism vs. civil liberties and environment –Single action bias decision makers will take one action to reduce a risk that they fear, but are less likely to take additional steps that would provide incremental protection or risk reduction presumably first action suffices in reducing the feeling of fear or threat –observed in medical diagnosis, farmers’ reactions to climate change (Weber, 1997)

9 Other psychological impediments (Hyperbolic) discounting of delayed costs and benefits Finite cognitive capacity –Inability to deal with too much choice Difficulty understanding probabilistic information Insufficient diversification/Home bias

10 (Hyperbolic) discounting of delayed costs and benefits Immediate consumption (small benefit now, large cost later) preferred over later consumption (large benefit later, small cost now) –Lack of self-control Initially observed in children (Mischel et al., 1969), also in adults (Kirby & Herrnstein, 1995) and other animals (Ainslie & Herrnstein, 1981) –Modeled by hyperbolic discounting (Loewenstein & Prelec, 1992; Rachlin et al., 1991) Discounting strongest for immediate consumption deferral from now to now + k –Explained by preference construction processes (Weber & Johnson, 2005; Weber et al. 2005) –Immediate consumption considered first, with richer representation mental representation of present vs. future events (Trope & Liberman, 2003) –Future: abstract; Present: concrete, affect-laden

11 Finite cognitive capacity Cognitive constraints recognized as source of many human heuristics and biases –Limited working memory and attention give rise to bounded rationality (Simon, 1990) –Economic assumption that “more choice is always better” not true Quality of choices and satisfaction with choices often reduced when number of choice options increase over the magical number 7 (±2) (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000) Shown to apply to selection of contributions to 401(k) retirement plans (Iyengar, Huberman, & Jiang, 2004)

12 Difficulty understanding probabilistic information Quantification of uncertainty into probabilities allows for communication, i.e., for its transmission to others –Allows for vicarious learning, an evolutionary advantage –Yet, concept of “probability” and probability theory a recent human accomplishment (conducted by our analytic, rule-based processing system) Prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979) and support theory (Tversky & Koehler, 1994; Tversky & Fox, 1995) formalize how people’s use of probabilities falls short Decisions from statistical description often deviate from decisions from personal experience (Hertwig, Barron, Weber, & Erev, 2004, 2005)

13 Decisions from Description –Outcome distribution fully described possible outcomes and their probabilities provided numerically or graphically almost exclusively studied in human choice –226 of 226 data sets in meta-analysis of Weber, Shafir, Blais (2004) –Extensive use of analytic, rule-based processing system –People overweight small-probability events (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979, Tversky & Kahneman, 1992) Decisions from Experience –Outcome distribution initially unknown knowledge of possible outcomes and their likelihood acquired by personal exposure in repeated choices –Extensive use of associative, affective processing system Recent events get disproportionate weight –People underweight small probability events, unless they just occurred, in which case they overreact (Hertwig et al., 2004, 2005)

14 Insufficient Diversification/Home Bias Two common investment mistakes that are based in affective reactions –Insufficient Diversification People underinvest in options that have negative correlations in their expected returns with current holdings Aversive to discover losers in one’s portfolio each period Diversified investment assets judged to be riskier than undiversified ones (Weber, Siebenmorgen, & M. Weber, 2005) –Home Bias Investors hold far too little of their financial portfolios in foreign investments, despite large potential gains from international diversification (Cooper & Kaplanis, 1994) Behavioral explanations show that the greater familiarity of domestic investments breeds greater liking (Huberman, 2001) or greater perceived competence (Kilka & M. Weber, 2000) These positive feelings translate into perceptions of smaller risk (Weber, Siebenmorgen, & M. Weber, 2005) and therefore more likely investment selection

15 So how to proceed? On multiple fronts Active decisions are problematic –Psychological risk dimensions (e.g., voluntary risk) fail to elicit affective early warning signal that would trigger action –Decisions from experience make risks seem small Important to design decision environment in helpful ways –Liberal paternalism (Sunstein & Thaler, 2003) Creative use of defaults (Benartzi & Thaler, 2004; Johnson & Goldstein, 2003)

16 Implications for Aiding Investment Decisions Three classes of decisions –Class 1: Decision to save and how much –Class 2: Choice between plan providers and investment vehicles –Class 3: Decision to periodically examine and rebalance investment portfolio

17 Class 1: Decision to save and how much Diagnosis 1 –Contemplating old-age and retirement and infirmity is aversive –Aversiveness results in avoidance behavior Recommendation –Use defaults that turn avoidance behavior (passivity) into a virtue (Benartzi & Thaler, 2004) Diagnosis 2 –Abstract representation of distant future consequences fails to arouse fear/concern/anxiety Recommendation –Concretize consequences of possible decisions through simulation tools like the Distribution Builder (Goldstein, Johnson, & Sharpe, 2005)

18 Stocks Bonds % % % Probability Distribution Of Wealth Covariances Interest Rates Inflation Rates $$$$ $ ? ? ? The $1,776,000,000,000 question Cash ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Uncertainty

19 Minimum level Typical level of retirement income (Perceived loss point) Income levels (% of pre-retirement income) 100 moveable people, one of which represents the user (experienced frequency representation of probability) Cost Framework for experiencing risk-return tradeoffs

20 Class 2: Choice between plan providers and/or investment vehicles Diagnosis 1 –Naïve diversification can be problematic Recommendation –Design categories such that 1/n heuristic will lead to desirable portfolio Diagnosis 2 –Too much choice can immobilize decision makers Recommendation –Arrange information hierarchically

21 Class 3: Decision to examine and rebalance investment portfolio Diagnosis –Such action will not be triggered by affective processing system Task is boring and inaction is not scary Recommendation –Establish habit for periodic reevaluation Repetitive indoctrination of simple rule –Like flossing and seat-belt usage Take away inaction as the status quo –Legislation/fines or beneficial defaults

22 So how to proceed? On multiple fronts –education and experiential interactions that concretize and dramatize future consequences can help, but…. Active decisions are problematic for multiple reasons –Decision environment can be designed in helpful ways to make people’s heuristics and biases work for them, rather than against them

23 References Ainslie, G., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1981). "Preference reversal and delayed reinforcement." Animal Learning & Behavior, 9, Cooper, I. & Kaplanis, E. (1994). Home bias in equity portfolios, inflation hedging, and international capital market equilibrium. Review of Financial Studies, VII, Epstein, S. (1994). Integration of the cognitive and the psychodynamic unconscious. American Psychologist, 49, Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., Lichtenstein, S., Read, S., & Combs, B. (1978). How safe is safe enough? A psychometric study of attitudes towards technological risks and benefits. Policy Sciences, 9, 127 ‑ 152. Hertwig, R., Barron, G., Weber, E. U., & Erev, I. (in press). Rare risky prospects: Different when valued through a window of sampled experiences. In K. Fiedler & P. Juslin (Eds.), Information sampling as a key to understanding adaptive cognition in an uncertain environment. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Hertwig, R., Barron, G., Weber, E. U., & Erev, I. (2004). Decisions from experience and the effect of rare events. Psychological Science, 15, (Editor’s Choice for “Highlights of the Recent Literature” in Science, 305, 452; see Holtgrave, D. & Weber, E. U. (1993). Dimensions of risk perception for financial and health risks. Risk Analysis, 13, 553 ‑ 558. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47(2), Hansen, J., Marx, S., Weber, E. U. (2004). The Role of Climate Perceptions, Expectations, and Forecasts in Farmer Decision Making: The Argentine Pampas and South Florida. International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI), Palisades, NY: Technical Report Huberman, G. (2001). Familiarity breeds investment. Review of Financial Studies, XIV, Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, Iyengar, S. S., Huberman, G., & Jiang, W. (2004). How much choice is too much? Contributions to 401(k) retirement plans. In O. S. Mitchell & S. P. Utkus (Eds.), Pension Design and Structure: New Lessons from Behavioral Finance. Part I. Research on Decision-Making Under Uncertainty (pp ). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Kahneman, D. (2002). Nobel Lecture. Kilka, M. & Weber, M. (2000). Home Bias in International Stock Return Expectations. Journal of Psychology and Financial Markets, I, Kirby, K. N. and R. J. Herrnstein. (1995). “Preference Reversals due to Myopic Discounting of Delayed Reward,” Psychological Science 6, Loewenstein, G. F., Prelec, D.Anomalies in intertemporal choice: Evidence and an interpretation.Quarterly Journal of Economics, 107(2): Mischel, W., Grusec, J., & Masters, J. (1969). Effects of expected delay time on the subjective value of rewards and punishments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 11,

24 Leiserowitz, A. (2004). "Suveying the Imapct of "The Day After Tomorrow"." Environment 46(9): Linville, P. W. and G. W. Fischer (1991). "Preferences for separating and combining events: A social application of prospect theory and the mental accounting model." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin(60): Loewenstein, G. F., Weber, E. U., Hsee, C. K., Welch, E. (2001). Risk as feelings. Psychological Bulletin, 127, Simon, H.A. (1990). Invariants of human behavior. Annual Review of Psychology, 41, Sloman, S. A. (1996). The empirical case for two systems of reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 119(1), Slovic, P. (1987). Perception of risk. Science, 236, Slovic, P. (1997). Trust, emotion, sex, politics, and science: Surveying the risk-assessment battlefield. In M. Bazerman, D. Messick, A. Tenbrunsel, & K. Wade-Benzoni (Eds.), Psychological Perspectives to Environmental and Ethical Issues in Management (pp ). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Sunstein, C. R. & Thaler, R. H. (2003). Liberal Paternalism is not an Oxymoron. University of Chicago Law Review Trope, Y. & Liberman, N. (2003). Temporal Construal. Psychological Review, 110, Tversky, Amos & Fox, Craig R. (1995), "Weighing Risk and Uncertainty,“ Psychological Review 102, Tversky, A. & D. Kahneman (1992): Advances in prospect theory: Cumulative representation of uncertainty. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 5, Tversky, A., & Koehler, D. J. (1994). Support theory: a nonextensional representation of subjective probability. Psychological Review, 101, Weber, E. U. (1997). Perception and expectation of climate change: Precondition for economic and technological adaptation. In M. Bazerman, D. Messick, A. Tenbrunsel, & K. Wade-Benzoni (Eds.), Psychological Perspectives to Environmental and Ethical Issues in Management (pp ). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Weber, E. U. (2004). The role of risk perception in risk management decisions: Who’s afraid of a poor old-age? In O. S. Mitchell & S. P. Utkus (Eds.), Pension Design and Structure: New Lessons from Behavioral Finance. Part I. Research on Decision-Making Under Uncertainty (pp ). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Weber, E. U. (2004). Perception Matters: Psychophysics for Economists. In J. Carrillo and I. Brocas (Fds.), Psychology and Economics (pp ). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Weber, E. U. & Johnson, E. J. (2005). Constructing preferences from memory. In: Slovic, P., & Lichtenstein, S. (Eds.), The Construction of Preference. New York NY: Cambridge University Press, in press Weber, E. U., Johnson, E. J., Milch, K., Chang, H., Brodscholl, J., & Goldstein, D. Asymmetries in discounting in intertemporal choice: A query theory account. In preparation for Psychological Science.. Weber, E. U., Siebenmorgen, N., Weber, M. (2005). Communicating asset risk: How the format of historic volatility information affects risk perception and investment decisions. Risk Analysis, in press.

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