Are we attracted by losses? Boundary conditions for the approach and avoidance effects of losses

Eldad Yechiam, Nathaniel J. Nathaniel, Guy Hochman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The majority of the literature on the psychology of gains and losses suggests that losses lead to an avoidance response. Several studies, however, have shown that losses can also lead to an approach response, whereby an option is selected more often when it produces losses. In five studies we examine the boundary conditions for these contradictory approach and avoidance effects. The results show that an approach response emerges only when losses are produced by a highly advantageous choice alternative and when participants have ample unbiased direct or vicarious experience with this alternative. Additionally, the avoidance response to losses is also not ubiquitous and emerges when alternatives producing losses are experienced as disadvantageous. Thus, the findings suggest that both the approach and avoidance effects of losses exist and can be accounted for by increased investment of cognitive resources with losses (i.e., loss attention). Additionally, the findings clarify the loss attention account in indicating that losses increase exploitative behavior based on experienced outcomes, a process which can be locally optimal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-605
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Experience
  • Learning
  • Loss attention
  • Loss aversion
  • Problem solving

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Are we attracted by losses? Boundary conditions for the approach and avoidance effects of losses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this