Department of Political Science

Framing Political Risks: Individual Differences and Loss Aversion in Personal and Political Situations

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People are motivated to avoid losses. In the context of politics, studies consistently show that the threat of losses increases support for risky public policies more than the promise of gains. Here, we predict that this loss aversion is calibrated by individual differences related to one’s ability to accommodate resource loss, and we investigate how these individual differences moderate reactions to the threat of losses and the promise of gains. Results from large-N experiments consistently demonstrate that this moderation effect crucially depends on whether the resource loss relates to oneself or one’s group—whether the setting is personal or political. Consistent with classic assumptions, individuals with inferior abilities to cope with resource loss are more loss averse in personal settings. In political settings where group resources are threatened, effects reverse: Individuals with superior resources and a more central position within the group consistently respond more to the prospect of loss. As discussed, these findings have important implications for our understanding of why and for whom the threat of loss motivates risky personal and political choices. By consequence, the findings also shed novel light on the psychological underpinnings of recent risky political events.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Psychology
Pages (from-to)53-70
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020

    Research areas

  • framing, individual differences, loss aversion, political persuasion, risk taking

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