We can’t stand losing: Disposition effect and loss aversion

What is the disposition effect?

The disposition effect is a behavioral finance concept that describes a psychological bias observed in investment decisions, particularly in the context of stock trading.

It refers to the tendency of investors to sell winning investments too early and hold onto losing investments too long. In other words, investors tend to “dispose” of their winning stocks quickly to lock in gains, but they are reluctant to sell losing stocks, hoping that the stocks will eventually recover and turn profitable.

Loss aversion, regret avoidance and disposition effect

The disposition effect can be explained by a combination of two psychological factors, including loss aversion and regret avoidance:

  • Loss Aversion: As mentioned earlier, people tend to be more sensitive to losses than gains. The pain of realizing a loss is often more intense than the pleasure of realizing a gain. This can lead investors to delay selling losing stocks in the hope of avoiding the regret associated with realizing a loss.
  • Regret Avoidance: Investors may fear regretting a decision to sell a losing stock if it subsequently recovers in value. This fear of making the wrong decision can lead to holding onto losing investments in the hope that they will rebound.

Behaviors triggered by the disposition effect

The disposition effect can have several negative consequences for investors:

  • Missed Opportunities: Holding onto losing investments can tie up capital in underperforming assets, preventing investors from reallocating those funds to potentially more promising opportunities.
  • Reduced Diversification: Holding onto losing stocks can lead to an imbalanced portfolio that is overexposed to underperforming assets. This lack of diversification can increase overall portfolio risk.
  • Reduced Returns: Selling winning stocks prematurely can prevent investors from fully capitalizing on the potential gains of those investments.
  • Emotional Stress: Continuously monitoring and hoping for the recovery of losing stocks can lead to emotional stress and mental fatigue for investors.

How to mitigate the impact of the disposition effect?

To mitigate the impact of the disposition effect and make more rational investment decisions:

  • Set Clear Criteria: Establish predetermined criteria for buying and selling investments. Having a clear plan in place can help you make decisions based on objective criteria rather than emotions.
  • Regularly Review Portfolio: Periodically review your portfolio to assess whether your investments are still aligned with your goals and risk tolerance. Consider whether any underperforming investments are worth holding onto.
  • Diversification: Maintain a diversified portfolio to spread risk across different asset classes and investments. Diversification can help reduce the impact of poor performance in individual assets.
  • Focus on Fundamentals: When evaluating investments, focus on the underlying fundamentals of the company or asset rather than short-term price fluctuations.
  • Seek Professional Advice: Consulting with financial advisors or professionals can provide you with an objective perspective and help you make informed decisions.

Recognizing and addressing the disposition effect can lead to more balanced and rational investment decisions, ultimately contributing to better long-term financial outcomes.

Nevertheless, if you want to enhance your financial decision-making, your should tackle another potential issue beforehand. The lack of financial literacy is one of the main sources of bad investment decisions. Indeed, this knowledge deficiency is to blame for over-influence of cognitive biases during financial decision making.



Brown, A. L., Imai, T., Vieider, F., & Camerer, C. (2021). Meta-analysis of empirical estimates of loss-aversion. Available at SSRN 3772089.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (2013). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. In Handbook of the fundamentals of financial decision making: Part I (pp. 99-127).