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An inquiry into the nature and causes of the Description - Experience gap

Cubitt, Robin; Kopsacheilis, Orestis; Starmer, Chris

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Professor of Economics & Decision Research

Orestis Kopsacheilis

Professor of Experimental Economics


The Description-Experience gap (DE gap) is widely thought of as a tendency for people to act as if overweighting rare events when information about those events is derived from descriptions but as if underweighting rare events when they experience them through a sampling process. While there is now clear evidence that some form of DE gap exists, its causes, exact nature, and implications for decision theory remain unclear. We present a new experiment which examines in a unified design four distinct causal mechanisms that might drive the DE gap, attributing it respectively to information differences (sampling bias), to a feature of preferences (ambiguity sensitivity), or to aspects of cognition (likelihood representation and memory). Using a model-free approach, we elicit a DE gap similar in direction and size to the literature’s average and find that when each factor is considered in isolation, sampling bias stemming from under-represented rare events is the only significant driver of the gap. Yet, model-mediated analysis reveals the possibility of a smaller DE gap, existing even without information differences. Moreover, this form of analysis of our data indicates that even when information about them is obtained by sampling, rare events are generally overweighted.


Cubitt, R., Kopsacheilis, O., & Starmer, C. (2022). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the Description - Experience gap. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 65(2), 105-137.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 28, 2021
Online Publication Date Oct 25, 2022
Publication Date Oct 1, 2022
Deposit Date Nov 16, 2021
Publicly Available Date Oct 2, 2023
Journal Journal of Risk and Uncertainty
Print ISSN 0895-5646
Electronic ISSN 1573-0476
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 65
Issue 2
Pages 105-137
Keywords Economics and Econometrics; Finance; Accounting
Public URL
Publisher URL


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