A Complete Survey of Behavioral Finance

Abstract (via Harvard)

Behavioral finance argues that some financial phenomena can plausibly be understood using models in which some agents are not fully rational. The field has two building blocks: limits to arbitrage, which argues that it can be difficult for rational traders to undo the dislocations caused by less rational traders; and psychology, which catalogues the kinds of deviations from full rationality we might expect to see. We discuss these two topics, and then present a number of behavioral finance applications: to the aggregate stock market, to the cross-section of average returns, to individual trading behavior, and to corporate finance. We close by assessing progress in the field and speculating about its future course.

Introduction (via harvard)

The traditional finance paradigm, which underlies many of the other articles in this handbook, seeks to understand financial markets using models in which agents are “rational”. Rationality means two things. First, when they receive new information, agents update their beliefs correctly, in the manner described by Bayes’ law. Second, given their beliefs, agents make choices that are normatively acceptable, in the sense that they are consistent with Savage’s notion of Subjective Expected Utility (SEU). This traditional framework is appealingly simple, and it would be very satisfying if its predictions were confirmed in the data. Unfortunately, after years of effort, it has become clear that basic facts about the aggregate stock market, the cross-section of average returns and individual trading behavior are not easily understood in this framework.

Behavioral finance is a new approach to financial markets that has emerged, at least in part, in response to the difficulties faced by the traditional paradigm. In broad terms, it argues that some financial phenomena can be better understood using models in which some agents are not fully rational. More specifically, it analyzes what happens when we relax one, or both, of the two tenets that underlie individual rationality. In some behavioral finance models, agents fail to update their beliefs correctly. In other models, agents apply Bayes’ law properly but make choices that are normatively questionable, in that they are incompatible with SEU.

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19. November 2009 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Behavioral Economics, Curated Readings | Leave a comment

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