Emotional Biases

Understanding Emotional Biases | CFA Level I Portfolio Management

Today, we’ll dive into the world of emotional biases and how they affect investors’ decision-making. Unlike cognitive biases, which stem from a lack of understanding, emotional biases arise from our unconscious feelings. Let’s examine six common emotional biases that often trip up market participants.

1. Loss Aversion

Loss aversion occurs when the pain from losing money is more significant than the pleasure of gaining the same amount. It can lead to irrational decisions, like selling too much or holding onto a losing investment.


Kahneman and Tversky’s 1973 study showed that people display asymmetric responses to gains and losses, revealing a strong aversion to loss. Loss aversion can result in higher transaction costs, reduced returns, or taking on excessive risk to recover earlier losses.

2. Overconfidence

Overconfidence is when investors overestimate their intuitive abilities or reasoning. It comes in two flavors: prediction overconfidence and certainty overconfidence. This bias can lead to underestimating risk, overestimating returns, and failing to diversify sufficiently.

3. Self-Control Bias

Self-control bias happens when individuals lack self-discipline and prioritize short-term satisfaction over long-term goals. In financial markets, it can result in overemphasis on income-producing assets or insufficient savings for retirement. Mitigating self-control bias involves establishing an investment plan and budget and reviewing them regularly.

4. Status Quo Bias

Status quo bias is the tendency to maintain the current situation due to comfort or familiarity. It can lead to holding onto inappropriate investments or not considering better alternatives.

5. Endowment Bias

Endowment bias happens when an asset is perceived as more valuable simply because it is already owned. Investors may fail to sell assets that are no longer appropriate for their needs, leading to an inconsistent asset allocation.

6. Regret-Aversion Bias

Regret-aversion bias occurs when people avoid taking action out of fear that it could be wrong. They may overemphasize errors of commission (doing something wrong) and underemphasize errors of omission (not doing something right). This bias can lead to excess conservatism in portfolios or herding behavior.

These emotional biases often lead to inaction, but it’s essential to differentiate them based on the reason for inaction. Status quo bias results from inertia, while endowment and regret-aversion biases result from conscious but potentially incorrect choices.

That wraps up our discussion on emotional biases! Next time, we’ll explore how these biases influence market behavior.

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