How beliefs influence the relative magnitude of pleasure and pain

Barbara A. Mellers*, Ilana Ritov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Loss aversion is an economic assumption about utility-people value giving up a good more than they value getting it. It also has hedonic meaning-the pain of a loss is greater in magnitude than the pleasure of a comparable gain. But value and pleasure are not necessarily identical. We test the hedonic interpretation of loss aversion in experimental markets. With hedonic forecasts, sellers imagine the pain of losing their endowment, and buyers imagine the pleasure of being endowed. With hedonic experiences, sellers rate the pleasure of having the endowment, and buyers rate the pain of being without it. Contrary to loss aversion, predicted pleasure is greater in magnitude than predicted pain, and experienced pleasure surpasses experienced pain. We show that the relative magnitude of pleasure and pain depends on beliefs about the likelihood of outcomes, as well as utilities. Surprise makes gains more pleasurable and losses more painful. With surprising gains and expected losses, pleasure can surpass pain. But when gains and losses are equally likely (or losses are surprising and gains are expected), the opposite pattern can occur. Finally, within-group and between-group prices are significantly correlated with hedonic experiences. Sellers who feel better with their endowments assign higher selling prices, and buyers who feel worse about the absence of endowment assign higher buying prices. Despite the fact that hedonic experiences deviate from loss aversion, these emotions predict the endowment effect.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)369-382
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Beliefs
  • Emotions
  • Hedonic forecasting
  • Loss aversion
  • Pain
  • Pleasure
  • Surprise


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