Tag Archives: Emotion

The Endowment Effect – Yours Isn’t Always Better: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 3

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the pitfalls of the sunk cost fallacy. Last week I alerted you to the bias of loss aversion. Since I mentioned the endowment effect last week, I thought it’d be good to cover it sooner rather than later, so this week, we’ll look at the endowment effect.

The endowment effect can be tricky in that if it’s not described in the right way, it’s likely to be misinterpreted. In short, it means that people want more money for something than they’d be willing to pay for it. Put differently: we overvalue that which we own. You could think of a simple example of this through the course of a negotiation. When negotiation with someone, we’ll probably overvalue what we bring to the table. Someone may offer you $50 for your 25-year old keyboard (piano), but you think it’s worth at least $75. Barring any outside appraisal, the endowment effect is likely at play here.

Now here’s where it might get a little confusing, so bear with me: one of the possible explanations for the endowment effect is that humans are loss-averse. Remember loss aversion from last week? The idea that we’d rather avoid losses than reap rewards. If we apply this knowledge to our example above, let’s say that the piano is actually worth $35, but you want $75, and you’re being offered $50. Because humans are loss-averse, it’s causing you to suffer from the endowment effect, which is causing you to overestimate the value of the piano. As a result, you’re forgoing a $15 gain, given the current value of the piano and the price you’re being offered.

Let’s look at another example, this time, from sports. Often times, general managers have their eye on certain players. They believe this player is going to fill the void that their team has and if they could only sign that one player, all of their troubles would be solved. Throughout the courtship of said player, the general manager is already imagining that the player is part of their team. In so doing, this general manager is likely to end up overpaying for the player. Why? Because of the endowment effect. The general manager feels that the player they’re about to acquire is already theirs and so not acquiring the player would be like losing the player. And because they already imagine the player to be on their team, they’re going to overvalue the player as a result of the endowment effect.

Though this example comes from sports, we can see the skeleton of it and apply it to just about any situation where someone “wants” something and has already imagined it as their own.

Before we get into some ways of avoiding the endowment effect, I want to make sure that I convey the point that the endowment effect applies to more than just things. Another way of looking at it is your customers (if you own a business). It’s never easy to fire a customer, but we’ve learned — sometimes — it must be done. As you might imagine, it can be quite hard to fire a customer because — among other reasons — we tend to overvalue that customer.

Ways for Avoiding the Endowment Effect

1) Am I emotional?

A seemingly obvious way to avoid the endowment effect is assessing whether our emotions are involved. Don’t get me wrong, emotions are a good thing, but they are a surefire way to overvaluing things that you own. That is, if you find yourself overly connected to something, your emotions might be getting in the way.

2) Independent Evaluation

This dovetails nicely with the idea of being unemotional. To guard against succumbing to the endowment effect, be sure to have an independent appraisal of whatever it is that you’re looking to sell of yours. While you’ll still have the final say on what you sell and how much you sell it for, having a second pair of eyes look at your side of the “deal” might help you determine if you’re judgment’s clouded.

3) Empathy

I wasn’t going to include this initially, but after reading the research, it certainly fits. Before I go on, I should say that folks might be confused in that I just suggested asking whether one is emotional and now I’m saying to practice empathy? For those wondering, being emotional is not the same thing as being empathetic. Back to empathy and the endowment effect. In situations where we’re selling something, researchers found there to be an empathy deficit when the endowment effect was present. So, to counter this, you should try to empathize with whom you’re negotiating.


Put Down the Non-Fiction and Walk Away Slowly

I read a lot of non-fiction. I’ve written about some of the books I’ve read on here (Good to Great, The Art of War, The Art of War (again), etc.), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the articles I share on Facebook (about 5 per day) comes from something I’d read in the past month. I believe it’s important to continually refresh ourselves (through learning). I do that by reading as much as I can — non-fiction.

About 2 years ago, when I decided to go to business school, I read everything about business that I could get my hands on. I read the Heaths, Collins, Christensen, Pink, Godin, and many others. In amongst that reading, I continually came across a piece of wisdom — read fiction. At first, I was a little shocked by it. Read fiction!? And then, I started to understand a little bit more about what the reasons for reading fiction.


Empathy is at the heart of the beginning of the solution to many of the world’s problems. When we empathize, we are able to recognize the emotions that another is feeling. At the root of compassion is empathy. [Note: sympathy is quite different from empathy. Sympathy is simply a concern for another’s well-being, where empathy usually refers to one sharing the same emotional state.] So, now that I’ve explained empathy, I need to tie it back into reading fiction.

Reading fiction ‘improves empathy’, study finds — Sept. 2011 — The Guardian

Reading boosts empathy — May 2012 — The Globe and Mail

Fiction is an exercise in empathy — June 2012 — New York Times

Dots connected?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to continue to read non-fiction — and lots of it. Though, I may start to whittle down the number of non-fiction books I read. I’ve just finished Dan Pink’s most recent To Sell Is Human, and I still want to get through Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats. Once I do that, I plan to make the switch and start reading more fiction. Will you join me?