American Economic Review   |  August 9, 2007

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Systematic asymmetries in exchange behavior have been widely interpreted as support for “endowment effect theory,” an application of prospect theory positing that loss aversion and utility function kinks set by entitlements explain observed asymmetries. We experimentally test an alternative explanation, namely, that asymmetries are explained by classical preference theories finding influence through the experimental procedures typically used. Contrary to the predictions of endowment effect theory, we observe no asymmetries when we modify procedures to remove the influence of classical preference theories. When we return to traditional-type procedures, however, the asymmetries reappear. The results support explanations based in classical preference theories and reject endowment effect theory.

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