“In prospect theory, loss aversion refers to the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are as much as twice as psychologically powerful as gains. Loss aversion was first convincingly demonstrated by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.”
For most people, losing $100 is not the same as not winning $100. From a rational point of view are the two things the same or different?
Most economists say the two are the same. They are symmetrical. But I think that ignores some key issues.
If we have only $10 to eat on today and that’s all we have, if we lose it, we’ll be in trouble: hungry.
But if we have $10 to eat on and flip a coin in a bet and double it to $20, we may just eat a little better. We’ll still eat. The base rate: survival.
They say rationally the two are the same, but that isn’t true. They aren’t the same. The loss makes us worse off than we started and it may be totally rational to feel worse when we go backward than we feel good about getting better off. I don’t like to go backward, I prefer to move forward to stay the same.
Prospect Theory, which found people experience a loss more than 2 X greater than an equal gain, discovered the experience of losses are asymmetric.
Actually, the math agrees.
You see, losing 50% requires a 100% gain to get it back. Losing it all is even worse. Losses are indeed asymmetric and exponential on the downside so it may be completely rational and logical to feel the pain of losses asymmetrically. Experience the feeling of loss aversions seems to be the reason a few of us manage investment risk and generate a smoother return stream rather than blow up.
To see what the actual application of asymmetry to portfolio management looks like, see: Shell Capital Management, LLC.
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