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Possession Is Nine-Tenths the Perceived Value
Date:6/11/2008

Researchers find out why people can't let go of what is theirs

WEDNESDAY, June 11 (HealthDay News) -- As anyone who has thrown a yard sale knows, it can be hard to part company with what was once a prized possession.

In an attempt to grasp this all too human -- and sometimes irrational -- tendency to overvalue what is yours, researchers have found that having a tenacious grip on the stuff you own has little do with an enhanced love for familiar objects. Rather, it seems that your brain is simply hard-wired to help stave off the loss of what you have.

"Loss is not the opposite of gain," explained study author Brian Knutson, an assistant professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford University. "They are two separate things, because people tend to overvalue the things they own and prefer what they own rather than comparable things they don't own -- a phenomenon known as the 'endowment effect.' And our brain research shows that this effect often seems to exist not because people are more driven to appreciate the things they own and find them more attractive, but because they simply can't stand the thought of losing a possession."

The finding is published in the June 12 issue of Neuron.

The authors said that the observation that "loss aversion" is the key dynamic behind the endowment effect could help explain why some people don't always act rationally when making economic decisions.

"The endowment effect makes economists nuts," Knutson noted, "since it means that some people -- although not all -- might require others to pay twice as much in order to be willing to sell a possession they own as they themselves would be willing to pay for the same thing, which really makes no sense in a market economy and is not always in the best economic interest of the decision-maker."

"And the key here," he added, "is that we found that emotions related to the fear of los
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