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Abstract

When faced with a decision, most people like to know the odds and prefer to avoid ambiguity. It has been suggested that this aversion to ambiguity is linked to people's assumption of worst possible outcomes. We used two closely linked behavioural tasks in 78 healthy participants to investigate whether such pessimistic prior beliefs can explain ambiguity aversion. In the risk-taking task, participants had to decide whether or not they place a bet, while in the beliefs task, participants were asked what they believed would be the outcome. Unexpectedly, we found that in the beliefs task, participants were not overly pessimistic about the outcome in the ambiguity condition and in fact closer to optimal levels of decision-making than in the risk conditions. While individual differences in pessimism could explain outcome expectancy, they had no effect on ambiguity aversion. Consequently, ambiguity aversion is more likely caused by general caution than by expectation of negative outcomes despite pessimism-dependent subjective weighting of probabilities.

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