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Comparing Gains and Losses

A. Peter McGraw, Jeff T. Larsen, Daniel Kahneman and David Schkade
Psychological Science
Vol. 21, No. 10 (OCTOBER 2010), pp. 1438-1445
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41062504
Page Count: 8
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Comparing Gains and Losses
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Abstract

Loss aversion in choice is commonly assumed to arise from the anticipation that losses have a greater effect on feelings than gains, but evidence for this assumption in research on judged feelings is mixed. We argue that loss aversion is present in judged feelings when people compare gains and losses and assess them on a common scale. But many situations in which people judge and express their feelings lack these features. When judging their feelings about an outcome, people naturally consider a context of similar outcomes for comparison (e. g., they consider losses against other losses). This process permits gains and losses to be normed separately and produces psychological scale units that may not be the same in size or meaning for gains and losses. Our experiments show loss aversion in judged feelings for tasks that encourage gain-loss comparisons, but not tasks that discourage them, particularly those using bipolar scales.

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