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Financial Strategy, Second Edition by Devendra Kodwani, Martin Upton, Janette Rutterford

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2

Behavioral Finance

Jay R. Ritter

1. INTRODUCTION

Behavioral finance is the paradigm where financial markets are studied using models that are less narrow than those based on Von Neumann-Morgenstern expected utility theory and arbitrage assumptions. Specifically, behavioral finance has two building blocks: cognitive psychology and the limits to arbitrage. Cognitive refers to how people think. There is a huge psychology literature documenting that people make systematic errors in the way that they think: they are overconfident, they put too much weight on recent experience, etc. Their preferences may also create distortions. Behavioral finance uses this body of knowledge, rather than taking the arrogant approach that it should be ignored. Limits to arbitrage refers to predicting in what circumstances arbitrage forces will be effective, and when they won't be.

Behavioral finance uses models in which some agents are not fully rational, either because of preferences or because of mistaken beliefs. An example of an assumption about preferences is that people are loss averse – a $2 gain might make people feel better by as much as a $1 loss makes them feel worse. Mistaken beliefs arise because people are bad Bayesians. Modern finance has as a building block the Efficient Markets Hypothesis (EMH). The EMH argues that competition between investors seeking abnormal profits drives prices to their “correct” value. The EMH does not assume that all investors are rational, but it does assume ...

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