A bird in hand is worth two in the bush?

Experiments show that a bird in the hand is actually perceived to be worth not two, but actually 2.48 in the bush. To be precise, the ‘birds’ were in fact coffee cups, but since the birds are probably proverbial, the general point still holds.

How this conclusion came about was through an experiment where people were divided randomly and half were given a coffee mug each. These were deemed ‘sellers’ while the others were cast in the role of buyers. Sellers were then asked how much they would be willing to part with the mug for, while buyers were asked how much they would pay for one. On average, buyers valued the mugs at no more than $2.87, while sellers valued them at $7.12. The mere fact that the sellers already had the mugs led them to perceive them as much more valuable than they otherwise would.

This phenomenon, called ‘loss-aversion’ has been observed in countless other situations. However, it is completely irrational. This is made even clearer by another experiment which demonstrated the ‘endowment effect’. This time, half a group received one item and half a group received a different one. Because the goods were distributed randomly, we would reasonably expect half the group to have received the item that was of less value to them personally. But when asked if they would be willing to trade, only 10-30% said they would. Again, ownership led people to over-value.

(Adapted from Julian Baggini, ‘Should You Judge This Book by Its Cover?’)

Bringing it to my Christian life, I think sometimes I hold on so tight to what I have because I cannot see that God is ready to give me so much more. Ownership of earthly possessions makes me over-value them and at times forget that it is much better to store up treasures in heaven than here on earth, and the things of eternal value are worth so much more than 2.48 coffee mugs.

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~ by irwin on February 3, 2012.

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