Get access

My Loss Is Your Loss … Sometimes: Loss Aversion and the Effect of Motivational Biases


*Address correspondence to Robyn S. Wilson, The Ohio State University, School of Environment and Natural Resources, 2021 Coffey Rd., Columbus, OH 43210, USA; tel: 614.247.6169; fax: 614.292.7432;


Findings from previous studies of individual decision-making behavior predict that losses will loom larger than gains. It is less clear, however, if this loss aversion applies to the way in which individuals attribute value to the gains and losses of others, or if it is robust across a broad spectrum of policy and management decision contexts. Consistent with previous work, the results from a series of experiments reported here revealed that subjects exhibited loss aversion when evaluating their own financial gains and losses. The presence of loss aversion was also confirmed for the way in which individuals attribute value to the financial gains and losses of others. However, similar evaluations within social and environmental contexts did not exhibit loss aversion. In addition, research subjects expected that individuals who were unknown to them would significantly undervalue the subjects' own losses across all contexts. The implications of these findings for risk-based policy and management are many. Specifically, they warrant caution when relying upon loss aversion to explain or predict the reaction of affected individuals to risk-based decisions that involve moral or protected values. The findings also suggest that motivational biases may lead decisionmakers to assume that their attitudes and beliefs are common among those affected by a decision, while those affected may expect unfamiliar others to be unable to identify and act in accordance with shared values.