Walker, J., Risen, J., Gilovich, T., & Thaler, R. (In press). Sudden Death Aversion: Avoiding Superior Options Because They Feel Riskier (JPSP)

We present evidence of Sudden-Death Aversion (SDA) – the tendency to avoid “fast” strategies that provide a greater chance of success, but include the possibility of immediate defeat, in favor of “slow” strategies that reduce the possibility of losing quickly, but have lower odds of ultimate success. Using a combination of archival analyses and controlled experiments, we explore the psychology behind SDA. First, we provide evidence for SDA and its cost to decision makers by tabulating how often NFL teams send games into overtime by kicking an extra point rather than going for the 2-point conversion (Study 1) and how often NBA teams attempt potentially game-tying 2-point shots rather than potentially game-winning 3-pointers (Study 2). To confirm that SDA is not limited to sports, we demonstrate SDA in a military scenario (Study 3). We then explore two mechanisms that contribute to SDA: myopic loss aversion and concerns about “tempting fate.” Studies 4 and 5 show that SDA is due, in part, to myopic loss aversion, such that decision makers narrow the decision frame, paying attention to the prospect of immediate loss with the “fast” strategy, but not the downstream consequences of the “slow” strategy. Study 6 finds people are more pessimistic about a risky strategy that needn’t be pursued (opting for sudden death) than the same strategy that must be pursued. We end by discussing how these twin mechanisms lead to differential expectations of blame from the self and others, and how SDA influences decisions in several different walks of life.


Walker, J., Kumar, A., & Gilovich, T. (2016). Cultivating gratitude and giving through experiential consumption. Emotion, 16(8), 1126.

Gratitude promotes well-being and prompts pro-social behavior. Here, we examine a novel way to cultivate this beneficial emotion. We demonstrated that two different types of consumption--material consumption (buying for the sake of having) and experiential consumption (buying for the sake of doing)--differentially foster gratitude and giving. In six studies we show that reflecting on experiential purchases (e.g., travel, meals out, tickets to events) inspires more gratitude than reflecting on material purchases (e.g., clothing, jewelry, furniture), and that thinking about experiences leads to more altruistic behavior than thinking about possessions. In Studies 1-2b, we use within-subject and between-subject designs to test our main hypothesis: that people are more grateful for what they've done than what they have. Study 3 finds evidence for this effect in the real world-setting of online customer reviews: Consumers are more likely to spontaneously mention feeling grateful for experiences they have bought than for material goods they have bought. In our final two studies, we show that experiential consumption also makes people more likely to be generous to others. Participants who contemplated a significant experiential purchase behaved more generously toward anonymous others than those who contemplated a significant material purchase. It thus appears that shifting spending towards experiential consumption can improve people's everyday lives as well as the lives of those around them