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Reconciling loss aversion and gain seeking in judged emotions


Current Directions in Psychological Science



Authors / Editors

Mellers B A;Yin S;Berman J Z


Publication Year



Is the pain of a loss greater in magnitude the pleasure of a comparable gain? Studies that compare positive feelings about a gain to negative feelings about a comparable loss have found many answers. The pain associated with a loss can be greater than, less than or equal to the pleasure of a comparable gain. We offer a new way to test loss aversion with emotions that gives reliable results. This method is based on the emotional reactions to the reference point, a positive change and a negative change. When we manipulate the reference point, two distinct patterns emerge. Pain surpasses pleasure (loss aversion) when the reference point is positive. Furthermore, pleasure exceeds pain (gain seeking) when the reference point is negative. A reference-dependent form of prospect theory accounts for the results. If the carriers of utility are changes from any salient reference point – not just the status quo – both loss aversion and gain seeking are predicted. The relative strength of emotions depends on where you start.


Emotions; Feelings; Loss aversion; Gain seeking; Prospect theory

Available on ECCH


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