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Disgust Promotes Disposal: Souring the Status Quo

  • Han, Seunghee
  • Lerner, Jennifer S.
  • Zeckhauser, Richard Jay

Humans naturally dispose of objects that disgust them. Is this phenomenon so deeply embedded that even incidental disgust – i.e., where the source of disgust is unrelated to a possessed object – triggers disposal? Two experiments were designed to answer this question. Two film clips served as disgust and neutral primes; the objects were routine commodities (boxes of office supplies). Results revealed that the incidental disgust condition powerfully increased the frequency with which decision makers traded away a commodity they owned for a new commodity (more than doubling the probability in each condition), thereby countering otherwise robust status quo bias (Samuelson & Zeckhauser, 1988). Decision makers were unaware of disgust’s impact. Even when warned to correct for it, they failed to do so. These studies presented real choices with tangible rewards. Their findings thus have implications not only for theories of affect and choice, but also for practical improvements in everyday decisions.

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Paper provided by Harvard Kennedy School of Government in its series Scholarly Articles with number 4449096.

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Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series
Handle: RePEc:hrv:hksfac:4449096
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  1. Hartman, Raymond S & Doane, Michael J & Woo, Chi-Keung, 1991. "Consumer Rationality and the Status Quo," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(1), pages 141-62, February.
  2. Knetsch, Jack L & Sinden, J A, 1984. "Willingness to Pay and Compensation Demanded: Experimental Evidence of an Unexpected Disparity in Measures of Value," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 99(3), pages 507-21, August.
  3. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. " Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
  4. Knetsch, Jack L, 1989. "The Endowment Effect and Evidence of Nonreversible Indifference Curves," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1277-84, December.
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