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  • James Odene

Loss aversion



Here’s a big one for the movement to consider: people hate losing far more than they like winning. This is a bias (a cognitive divergence from logic) that shows that people care far more about not losing what they have than gaining something they don’t.


In other words, it is better to stick to a status quo (potentially even if you’re unhappy with it) then do something that is better but might feel like a loss. Something else at play here is what is known as the endowment effect.


‘I had it first!’

Kind of the like the spoilt brat, the endowment effect is the hardwiring that makes us want to hold on to stuff we already have, just because we have it. Like a child getting grumpy when someone takes something they had, not because they truly want it, but because they don’t want to lose it.


Imagine you own this mug… what is the least you are willing to sell it for?


Mugs with slogans, what could be more desirable...

Imagine you see this mug at a stall… how much do you think it’s worth?


This is the same mug...

Chances are that on average, the minimum someone is willing to sell something for, is more than what others believe it is worth. That's why you can spend hours walking around car boot sales, crazed at all of the crazy prices for some old tat.


(For international readers, a car boot sale is when people fill their cars full of rubbish they no longer want and take it to carpark or field and try and sell it all off, like the American garage or yard sale.)


“losses loom larger than gains”
Kahneman & Tversky, 1979

Ok, ok, so what’s the point?

If people can be averse to losing something they are not even that bothered about, imagine how they might feel being asked to ‘lose’ their dietary-based identity – even if they can see that the alternative is probably better!


What can be done about it?

It largely depends on the type of action you are trying to achieve, but mostly, thinking of what Anthony Robbins (megastar, self-help business guru) would say is - to make a change, you need something to shift from immediate pain for staying as you are to immediate relief in changing.


Things to consider:

  • Make something free or offer trial periods

  • Give an adequate ‘excuse’ for the action (people want to feel safe that they have a good reason to do something, even if the reason doesn’t make much sense – ‘because I’ve had a hard day’ for example might be enough)

  • Go for core emotions (Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, Surprise) to make it easier to say yes (see Paul Ekman for more)

  • Appeal to the ego



Compare for example the difference in promoting a diet change challenge with, 'Try 30 Days Without Meat' to 'Real Men Leave Animals Off Their Plates', or 'True Leaders Eat Veg', or 'Eat Vegan For Better Sex'.


Of course, these are just silly examples, but they highlight a potential increase in sign ups that could be achieved when considering loss aversion. The first ask is framing the challenge as losing something (meat) for 30 days. Whereas the others attempt to appeal to ego. If you consider yourself a 'real man', perhaps this ad tagline my work better than 30 days without meat.


As ever, the best thing to do is to create your hypothesis and then TEST, TEST, TEST.

That way you'll find out the best solution.


Got any bright ideas about how to tackle loss aversion? I'd love to hear from you!


#LossAversion #ego #veganchallenge #dietchange

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