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On attitude polarization under Bayesian learning with non-additive beliefs

20 September 2012
Publication Type: Working Paper
JEL Code: C79, D83

Ample psychological evidence suggests that people’s learning behavior is often prone to a “myside bias” or “irrational belief persistence” in contrast to learning behavior exclusively based on objective data. In the context of Bayesian learning such a bias may result in diverging posterior beliefs and attitude polarization even if agents receive identical information. Such patterns cannot be explained by the standard model of rational Bayesian learning that implies convergent beliefs. As our key contribution, we therefore develop formal models of Bayesian learning with psychological bias as alternatives to rational Bayesian learning. We derive conditions under which beliefs may diverge in the learning process despite the fact that all agents observe the same – arbitrarily large – sample, which is drawn from an “objective” i.i.d. process. Furthermore, one of our learning scenarios results in attitude polarization even in the case of common priors. Key to our approach is the assumption of ambiguous beliefs that are formalized as non-additive probability measures arising in Choquet expected utility theory. As a specific feature of our approach, our models of Bayesian learning with psychological bias reduce to rational Bayesian learning in the absence of ambiguity.

Series title: Working Paper 104
1 July 2008
Journal: Forthcoming, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty
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