Walasek, L., & Stewart, N. (in press). Context dependent sensitivity to losses: Range and skew manipulations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

The assumption that losses loom larger than gains is widely used to explain many behavioral phenomena in judgment and decision making. It is also generally accepted that loss aversion is stable trait-like individual difference characterizing people’s sensitivity to gains and losses. This interpretation was recently challenged by Walasek and Stewart (2015), who showed that by manipulating the range of the gains and losses used in the accept-reject task it is possible to find loss aversion, loss neutrality and a reversal of loss aversion. Here, we re-examine the claim that these context effects arise as a result of people being sensitive to the rank position of a given gain among other gains, and the rank position of a loss among other losses. We use skewed distributions of outcomes to manipulate the rank position of gains and losses while keeping the range of possible outcomes constant. We find a small but robust effect of skew on the propensity to accept mixed gambles. We compare the sizes of skew and range effects and find that they are of similar magnitude but the range effects are smaller than those reported by Walasek and Stewart (2015). We were able to attenuate loss aversion, but we were not able to replicate Walasek and Stewart’s (2015) reversal of loss aversion. We conclude that rank effects are, at least in part, responsible for the loss aversion seen in the accept-reject task.

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