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Disappointment aversion and social comparisons in a real-effort competition

Gaechter, Simon; Huang, Lingbo; Sefton, Martin

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Professor, Psychology of Economic Decision Making

Lingbo Huang


We present an experiment to investigate the source of disappointment aversion in a sequential real-effort competition. Specifically, we study the contribution of social comparison effects to the disappointment aversion previously identified in a two-person real-effort competition (Gill, D., and V. Prowse. “A Structural Analysis of Disappointment Aversion in a Real Effort Competition.” American Economic Review, 102, 2012, 469–503). To do this we compare “social” and “asocial” versions of the Gill and Prowse experiment, where the latter treatment removes the scope for social comparisons. If disappointment aversion simply reflects an asymmetric evaluation of losses and gains we would expect it to survive in our asocial treatment. Alternatively, if losing to or winning against another person affects the evaluation of losses/gains, as we show would be theoretically the case under asymmetric inequality aversion, we would expect treatment differences. We find behavior in social and asocial treatments to be similar, suggesting that social comparisons have little impact in this setting. Unlike in Gill and Prowse we do not find evidence of disappointment aversion. (JEL C91, D12, D81, D84)


Gaechter, S., Huang, L., & Sefton, M. (2018). Disappointment aversion and social comparisons in a real-effort competition. Economic Inquiry, 56(3),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 19, 2017
Online Publication Date Sep 21, 2017
Publication Date Jul 1, 2018
Deposit Date Sep 13, 2017
Publicly Available Date Sep 21, 2017
Journal Economic Inquiry
Print ISSN 0095-2583
Electronic ISSN 1465-7295
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 56
Issue 3
Keywords real effort competition, social comparison effects, disappointment aversion, reference-dependent preferences
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Sep 13, 2017


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