The Loss of Loss Aversion: Paying Attention to Reference Points

E. Tory Higgins*, Nira Liberman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We agree with Gal and Rucker (, in press) that loss aversion is not as firmly established as typically assumed. We affirm, however, the more general principle put forward within Prospect Theory (D. Kahneman & A. Tversky, 1979), which is that reference points increase people's sensitivity to objective changes in value. We show how the literatures on counterfactual thought, social comparison, and goal pursuit are consistent with the notion that reference points increase sensitivity to change in value, while not being consistent with loss aversion. We then examine, within the framework of Regulatory Focus theory (E. T. Higgins, 1997, 1998), how different reference points combine with characteristics of the actor and the situation to give rise to loss aversion (more sensitivity to negative outcomes than to positive outcomes) as well as to the reverse pattern (more sensitivity to positive outcomes than to negative outcomes). Our review suggests that the status quo, even when used as a reference point, is not necessarily neutral. It also suggests that anchor points other than the status quo may serve as reference points and that people may use more than one reference point simultaneously. More generally, we call for a critical examination of the “bad is stronger than good” principle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-532
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Volume28
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2018

Keywords

  • Decision making
  • Judgment
  • Promotion and prevention
  • Reference points
  • Value

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