Loss aversion with a state-dependent reference point
This study investigates loss aversion when the reference point is a state-dependent random variable. This case describes, for example, a money manager being evaluated relative to a risky benchmark index rather than a fixed target return level. Using a state-dependent structure, prospects are more (less) attractive if they depend positively (negatively) on the reference point. In addition, the structure avoids an inherent aversion to risky prospects and yields no losses when the prospect and the reference point are the same. Related to this, the optimal reference-dependent solution equals the optimal consumption solution (no loss aversion) when the reference point is selected completely endogenously. Given that loss aversion is widespread, we conclude that the reference point generally includes an important exogenously fixed component. For example, the typical investment benchmark index is externally fixed by the investment principal for the duration of the investment mandate. We develop a choice model where adjustment costs cause stickiness relative to an initial exogenous reference point.
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