Valuing Money and Things: Why a $20 Item Can Be Worth More and Less Than $20

A. Peter McGraw, Eldar Shafir, Alexander T. Todorov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The study of risky decision making has long used monetary gambles to study choice, but many everyday decisions do not involve the prospect of winning or losing money. Monetary gambles, as it turns out, may be processed and evaluated differently than gambles with nonmonetary outcomes. Whereas monetary gambles involve numeric amounts that can be straightforwardly combined with probabilities to yield at least an approximate "expectation" of value, nonmonetary outcomes are typically not numeric and do not lend themselves to easy combination with the associated probabilities. Compared with monetary gambles, the evaluation of nonmonetary prospects typically proves less sensitive to changes in the probability range (inside the extremes of certainty and impossibility), which, among other things, can yield preference reversals. Generalizing on earlier work that attributed similar findings to the role of affect in the evaluation process (Rottenstreich, Y., C. K. Hsee. 2001. Money, kisses, and electric shocks: An affective psychology of risk. Psych. Sci. 12(3) 185-190), we attribute the observed patterns to a fundamental difference in the evaluation of monetary versus nonmonetary outcomes. Potential pitfalls in the use of monetary gambles to study choice are highlighted, and implications and future directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)816-830
Number of pages15
JournalManagement Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


  • Affect
  • Choice
  • Judgment and decision making
  • Monetary gambles
  • Money
  • Preference reversals
  • Value


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