Date of this version


Document Type



reference dependence, Prospect Theory, loss aversion, goals, satisfaction


In a large-scale field study of marathon runners, we test whether goals act as reference points in shaping the valuation of outcomes. Theories of reference-dependent preferences, such as Prospect Theory, imply that outcomes that are just below or just above a reference point are evaluated differently. Consistent with the Prospect Theory value function, we find that satisfaction as a function of relative performance (the difference between a runner’s finishing time goal and her actual finishing time) exhibits loss aversion and diminishing sensitivity in both predictions of and actual experienced satisfaction. However, in contrast to Prospect Theory, we observe that loss aversion is partially driven by a discontinuity or jump at the reference point. In addition, we find that a runner’s time goal as well as their previous marathon times simultaneously impact runner satisfaction, providing support for the impact of multiple reference points on satisfaction.

Published in

Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

Citation/Other Information

56, 19-50

Included in

Marketing Commons