Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 19–50 | Cite as

Goals as reference points in marathon running: A novel test of reference dependence

  • Alex MarkleEmail author
  • George Wu
  • Rebecca White
  • Aaron Sackett


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.


Reference dependence Prospect Theory Loss aversion Goals Satisfaction 

JEL Classification

C93 D03 

Supplementary material

11166_2018_9271_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (484 kb)
(PDF 484 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alex Markle
    • 1
    Email author
  • George Wu
    • 2
  • Rebecca White
    • 2
  • Aaron Sackett
    • 3
  1. 1.Gabelli School of BusinessFordham UniversityBronxUSA
  2. 2.Booth School of BusinessUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Opus College of BusinessUniversity of St. ThomasSt. PaulUSA

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