Theory and Decision

, Volume 75, Issue 2, pp 193–210

Aspirations as reference points: an experimental investigation of risk behavior over time


    • Department of Finance, School of Business and EconomicsMaastricht University
    • Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement (Netspar)
  • Sam F. Henry
    • Department of Finance, School of Business and EconomicsMaastricht University
  • Nikos Kalogeras
    • Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, School of Business and EconomicsMaastricht University
    • European Center of Corporate Engagement (ECCE), School of Business and EconomicsMaastricht University

DOI: 10.1007/s11238-012-9323-6


This paper examines the importance of aspirations as reference points in a multi-period decision-making context. After stating their personal aspiration level, 172 individuals made six sequential decisions among risky prospects as part of a choice experiment. The results show that individuals make different risky-choices in a multi-period compared to a single-period setting. In particular, individuals’ aspiration level is their main reference point during the early stages of decision-making, while their starting status (wealth level at the start of the experiment) becomes the central reference point during the later stages of their multi-period decision-making.


Aspirations Multi-period decision-making Reference points Risk-behavior Risky-choice


The authors thank the editor, Mohammed Abdellaoui, for his constructive guidance through the review process. For their comments on previous drafts of this paper and their help in administering the experiment, the authors thank Anne Klesse, Martin Strobel, and seminar participants at Maastricht University’s Behavioral and Experimental Economics Laboratory meetings. We thank Donna Maurer for her editorial assistance. This paper is based on the work done by the second author as part of fulfilling the requirements for obtaining a M.Sc. degree.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012