A Model of Mental Accounting and Reference Price Adaptation

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2016.2569

Consumers possess a mental account that stores the worth of items purchased and yet to be consumed. Reference prices act as the book values of these items. Movements in the account—the comparison between the reference price and the price paid at entry, and the comparison between the benefit of consumption and the reference price at exit—yield hedonic benefits. The reference price is determined by a psychological process of adaptation to the price evoked by the trade. The model is integrative in that it explains a wide array of observed anomalies such as sunk-cost effects, payment depreciation, reluctance to trade, preference for prepayment, and the flat-rate bias. The model also generates new testable implications.

This paper was accepted by James Smith, decision analysis.

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