the endowment effect

Are you familiar with the endowment effect? You may not recognize the term, but you surely have experienced it.

Resulting from the study of behavioral economics, the endowment effect is the result of your attributing more value to your things simply because you already possess them. One example is when you want to sell something on craigslist for a much higher price than others are willing to pay. You think it’s a treasure; other people see it as used merchandise.

Another scientific term for the effect is divestiture aversion – we hate to let go of stuff we own. Because we want to avoid the feelings of loss that come with discarding our possessions, we hold on to things much longer than necessary (see the accumulation of broken appliances and outgrown toys in many basements).

The endowment effect even relates to things you don’t own yet. The longer you hold an object, the more you become attached to it and the more difficult it is to give up. Imagine you’re shopping for a specific item and you find something that is close to what you want. If you carry it around the store while you look for other items, you are likely to become attached to it and purchase it, even though it doesn’t have all the necessary qualities you desire (see closets filled with multiple pairs of shoes that aren’t worn).

Could there be some deep, biological need we’re trying to fill? The endowment effect also has shown up in other primates.

Of course, because we can reason, we also can look at our behavior and change it.

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