Investors driven by emotion, not facts

July 26, 2011, UC Davis

Due to regret, investors are most likely to repurchase a stock sold for a gain that is trading below the price at which they sold it.
( -- Individuals investing in stocks let their emotions guide them more than facts, often to their financial detriment, a new UC Davis study finds.

The paper, “Once Burned, Twice Shy: How Naïve Learning, Counterfactuals, and Regret Affect the Repurchase of Stocks Previously Sold,” is co-authored by Brad M. Barber, a professor in the UC Davis Graduate School of Management; Terrance Odean, a UC Berkeley professor; and Michal Strahilevitz, a Golden Gate University professor. The study is forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing Research.

“Having sold a , are disappointed if it continues to rise and regret having sold it in the first place,” said Barber. “They anticipate that their disappointment and regret will be more intense if they repurchase such a stock rather than not repurchasing it; thus investors are most likely to repurchase a stock previously sold for a gain that is trading below the price at which they sold it.”

Barber and his colleagues analyzed trading records for 66,465 U.S. households with accounts at a large discount broker between January 1991 and November 1996 and another 596,314 U.S. investors with accounts at a large retail broker between January 1997 and June 1999.

The analysis suggested that investors often make decisions based on emotions such as regret, disappointment, pride and contentment.

The researchers looked at each day an investor made a stock purchase and whether the investor had sold those same stocks for a gain or loss during the previous 252 trading days. The team found that investors not only prefer to re-buy a stock that was profitable in the past, but they are also more likely to buy such a stock if it lost value after they sold it.

All behaviors were consistent with what the researchers term “counterfactual thinking” — looking back at what could have been — and suggest that investors are motivated by a desire to avoid and instead feel pride.

“If the stock market were a level playing field and trading were costless, one might argue that the ability to enhance the experience of investing by timing one’s repurchases in a way that feels good is welfare increasing,” the paper concludes.

“However, the enhanced emotional experience often will come with a price tag for two distinct reasons: the playing field is not level — on average institutional investors gain through trading and individuals lose. Furthermore, due to commissions and other transaction costs, is costly.”

Explore further: Buying the same stock -- again: Pride and regret drive investors' decisions

More information: The full paper is available at

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not rated yet Jul 26, 2011
"...investors not only prefer to re-buy a stock that was profitable in the past, but they are also more likely to buy such a stock if it lost value after they sold it."

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see the basis for the leap from this statement to saying the buyer "regrets" the original sale. If I sell a stock that performed well for me to reap my gains, and then it drops, I might instead think that I was pretty clever to anticipate its peak. And if it drops a little below where I bought it, I might very well buy it again after a "correction", figuring it will perform well again and I will gain on it again. On the other hand, if I sell a stock and it rises, by re-buying it, I run the risk of "selling low and buying high"--the *other* illogical thing analysts always accuse individual investors of doing.

I'd like to know how the re-purchased stock did after being re-purchased. Did the buyer make a smart move or did they "regret" it?
2.2 / 5 (13) Jul 26, 2011
I'm not surprised by this either. Almost every decision people make is based on emotion so why sould investments be any different?
not rated yet Jul 27, 2011
Using detailed trades data for two brokers, we document that investors are reluctant

(1) to repurchase stocks previously sold for a loss and
(2) to repurchase stocks that have risen in price subsequent to a prior sale.

We propose that this behavior is driven by investors emotional reactions to trading and their attempts to distance themselves from negative emotions (e.g., disappointment and regret).

I am absolutely sure emotion is involved in trading in shares however I am not convinced that the above statements 1 & 2 actually are strong enough to lead to the conclusion.

However reading more of the original research it is reassuring that in fact they may have a solid case.
not rated yet Aug 03, 2011
In Buddhism, everything stems from fear and desire... interesting.

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