I sometimes find myself wondering why people become attached to their possessions if, after all, our things are merely things. Our stuffed animals and blankets mattered to us as kids - but all our personal belongings hold special meaning to us as we grow older. My mug matters more to me than everybody else’s mugs; I might ask you to pay me $2 for the same mug I would only pay $1 for if it wasn’t mine. Why is this?
According to psychologists Daniel Kahneman, Jack Knetsch, and Richard Thaler, this “endowment effect” occurs because we experience something called “loss aversion” – which basically says we are more scared to lose than we are happy to gain. In their study they showed that just telling people they “owned” a mug changed how they felt about it - people would sell a mug they “owned” for $7, but would buy the same mug they didn’t own for $3. So it appears it hurts about twice as much to lose something that is ours than to gain something that isn’t ours.
The logic behind the endowment effect seems reasonable – we value what is familiar; we value our stuff. You can learn more about the endowment effect in this article by Peter Worrell.
To explore your attachment to your possessions, check out this survey.
This post was contributed by Masha Ksendzova, a research assistant in the Personality and Well-being Lab at San Francisco State University.