House Money Effect

Updated on April 4, 2024
Article byGayatri Ailani
Edited byGayatri Ailani
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is The House Money Effect?

The House Money Effect is a cognitive bias observed in decision-making and risk-taking behavior. It refers to a psychological phenomenon where individuals take greater risks with money or assets they perceive as “gains” or “house money” than they would with their original investment, savings, or baseline wealth.

House Money Effect

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The house money effect is studied to gain a deeper understanding of how individuals make financial decisions and view risk when they perceive themselves to be dealing with gains or “extra” money. By examining this cognitive bias, researchers and analysts aim to uncover the underlying psychological mechanism that influences decision-making and risk-taking behavior.

Key Takeaways

  • The House Money Effect is a psychological bias observed in decision-making and risk-taking behavior, particularly in the context of gambling or financial decision-making. 
  • It describes the tendency of individuals to take greater risks with money or assets they perceive as “gains” or “house money” compared to their original investment or baseline wealth.
  • The effect suggests that individuals mentally separate their gains from their initial funds, creating a perception that the newfound money is separate and less valuable.

House Money Effect Explained

House money effect was first introduced and extensively studied as a concept by Richard H. Thaler, a renowned economist, and behavioral scientist, in his 1992 paper “The Psychology of Saving.” Thaler’s research investigated how gains and losses influence people’s attitudes and decision-making processes.

Thaler’s initial exploration of the house money effect primarily centered around gambling behavior. He discovered that individuals tended to become more risk-seeking after experiencing a win or unexpected gain. Contrary to their risk-averse behavior when using their own money, individuals perceived these gains as separate from their original investment, leading to increased risk-taking. Thaler coined the term “house money” to describe this psychological separation between the initial investment and the winnings or gains earned from such investments.

The house money effect psychology gained significant recognition and grew beyond gambling, extending into various areas of behavioral economics and finance. Researchers and practitioners began investigating the house money effect in investment decision-making, stock trading, and entrepreneurship.

A notable study contributing to the understanding of the house money effect was conducted by Colin F. Camerer, a behavioral economist, and his colleagues in 1999. Their research involved simulated stock trading experiments, where participants were given a fixed amount of money to invest. The findings revealed that participants were more inclined to take greater risks and engage in speculative trades with the simulated profits (house money) than their original funds.

Since then, the House Money Effect has continued to be a subject of study and has been extensively documented in behavioral finance. Researchers have explored its implications on financial decisions, including portfolio management, asset allocation, and investment strategies. The insights gained from these studies have provided a deeper understanding of how gains and the perception of separate funds can influence an individual’s financial decision-making and risk-bearing approach. The process can be summarized as follows:

  • Initial Investment: Individuals begin with their own money or funds, which could be allocated for gambling, investing, or any other financial activity.
  • Positive Outcome: Individuals who enjoy a positive outcome, such as winning a bet or receiving unexpected gains, mentally segregate these winnings as “house money”. This separation occurs due to a psychological perception that the winnings are distinct from their initial investment.
  • Psychological Separation: Once individuals mentally separate the winnings from their original funds, they detach themselves from the risks of losing the house money. They psychologically distance themselves from the initial investment and perceive the winnings as an opportunity to take greater risks.
  • Risk-taking Behavior: Due to this perceived separation, individuals are more inclined to risk-seeking behavior with the house money. They may be more willing to take higher-stakes bets, make speculative investments, or participate in activities they would otherwise consider too risky when using their funds.
  • Decision Biases: The house money effect can be influenced by several cognitive biases, such as the endowment effect (assigning a higher value to what is gained) and mental accounting (treating money differently based on its origin). These biases further contribute to the willingness to take risks with the perceived house money.

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Let us look at the house money effect examples to understand the concept better.

Example #1

Assume John visits a casino and decides to gamble with the $100 he has set aside for this purpose. He sits down at a blackjack table and starts playing.

After he begins gambling, John hits a winning streak and earns $500 from the initial investment of $100. At this point, he mentally separates the $400 he has gained from his original $100 investment. He perceives this $400 as “house money” or winnings, no longer considering it part of his funds.

Due to the House Money Effect, John’s risk-taking behavior likely changes. With his original $100, he may have been cautious and played conservatively. However, now that he sees the $400 as separate winnings, he may become more willing to take higher risks and make larger bets. He might feel he is playing with the casino’s money rather than his own.

As a result, John starts making riskier bets, doubling down more frequently and increasing his bet sizes. His mindset is influenced by the psychological separation of the initial $100 from the $400 in winnings. He may be less concerned about losing the $400 and more focused on maximizing his potential gains.

However, gambling outcomes are unpredictable, and luck can quickly change. Unfortunately, John’s luck takes a turn for the worse, and he loses several hands in a row. Despite losing $200, he still has $300 in winnings. However, instead of walking away with a profit, he continues to chase his earlier success, believing he can recover the losses since he is still playing with “house money”.

Ultimately, John’s risk-taking behavior and the house money effect may lead him to take greater risks and potentially lose more than he initially intended. The perceived separation of the winnings from the initial investment can influence his decision-making, making it harder for him to take a rational and disciplined approach to gambling.

Example #2

Let us assume Sarah invests in the stock market with $10,000 of her savings. Over time, her investments perform well, and her portfolio grows to $20,000, doubling her initial investment.

At this point, Sarah may experience the house money effect. She mentally separates the $10,000 gain from her original investment and perceives it as “house money” or winnings. Sarah may feel more confident and inclined to take on higher risks with the $10,000 gain, considering it separate from her finances.

Influenced by the house money effect, Sarah might decide to invest the entire $10,000 (gain) in a speculative or high-risk investment opportunity that she would have been hesitant to consider with her initial $10,000. She may believe she has nothing to lose since she uses the “house money” to invest and can potentially earn even higher returns.

However, if the speculative investment does not perform as expected, Sarah risks losing the entire $10,000 she gained earlier. Despite her winnings, the house money effect can cloud her judgment and lead her to take on more significant risks than she would have with her original funds.

In this scenario, the house money effect can impact Sarah’s decision-making and potentially result in financial losses. The psychological separation of the gains from her initial investment can lead her to make riskier choices, disregarding the potential consequences and the overall risk-reward balance.

House Money Effect vs Gambler’s Fallacy

The differences between the House Money Effect vs. Gambler’s Fallacy are:

BasisHouse Money EffectGambler’s Fallacy
Perception of RiskIndividuals tend to perceive less risk when dealing with perceived gains or “extra” money, leading to more aggressive risk-taking behavior.Individuals incorrectly believe that the outcome of a random process is influenced by previous outcomes, leading to incorrect predictions and risky decisions.
Time DependencyIt focuses on the impact of recent gains or perceived “extra” money on subsequent decision-making.It pertains to the mistaken belief that past outcomes influence future outcomes, regardless of recent wins or losses.

House Money Effect vs Letting Winners Ride

The differences between the House Money Effect vs. Letting Winner Ride are:

BasisHouse Money Effect Letting Winners Ride
Concept It refers to the tendency of individuals to become more risk-seeking and willing to take greater risks with perceived gains or winnings, considering them separate from their original investment or personal funds.Letting Winners Ride allows profitable investments to continue growing without selling or booking profits. It involves keeping winning positions open in the hope of further gains.
Psychological Perception It involves mentally separating the gains or winnings from the original investment or personal funds. People perceive the winnings as distinct and are more willing to take risks with such funds.It is driven by the belief that a winning investment has demonstrated strength and potential for further growth. It is based on the expectation that continuing the investment could result in even higher profits.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Why does the house money effect occur?

People mentally separate their money or assets into different “accounts” based on their origin or perceived purpose. When individuals perceive themselves as handling gains or “extra” money, they mentally segregate it from their original investment or baseline wealth. This mental accounting creates a psychological detachment from the initial funds, leading to a reduced sense of risk and increased risk-taking behavior.

2. How can the house money effect be managed or mitigated?

Establish clear investment goals, adhere to a disciplined approach, and define your risk tolerance, target returns, and investment horizon. Following well-defined goals help investors stay focused and avoid impulsive or excessive risk-taking influenced by the perception of winnings being separate funds.

3. What are the potential consequences of the house money effect?

One of the primary consequences of the house money effect is an increased propensity for risk-taking behavior. When individuals perceive themselves to be playing with gains or “extra” money, they are more likely to engage in riskier investments or gambling activities compared to the times they use their original funds. This can lead to higher exposure to potential losses and greater volatility in decision-making.

This article has been a guide to What Is House Money Effect. We explain its examples and compare it with Gambler’s Fallacy and Letting Winners Ride. You may also find some useful articles here –

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