Behavioral Finance: The Psychology Behind Our Financial Decisions

Behavioral Finance

Behavioral finance is a relatively new field that studies how psychology influences financial decisions and outcomes. It combines behavioral and cognitive science theory with conventional economic and finance theory to better understand financial markets. Here’s an overview of this fascinating intersection between human behavior and money matters.

How Emotions Drive Financial Choices

Unlike traditional financial theories that assume people act rationally, behavioral finance recognizes that emotions often drive financial decisions. For example, fear and anxiety can lead to panic selling or avoiding investing altogether. Overconfidence can cause unrealistic projections. Anger about losing money may motivate revenge trading.

The Role of Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases and systematic errors in thinking also impact financial choices. Anchoring fixates on arbitrary price points when buying and selling. Confirmation bias leads investors to seek only data that validates their beliefs. Gambler’s fallacy induces expectations that past events will reverse course.

Herd Mentality

Herd mentality or mob psychology refers to the tendency to mimic the financial decisions of others, assuming collective knowledge exceeds individual knowledge. While following the crowd can feel safe and comfortable, it can lead to rash decision-making and missed opportunities.

Prospect Theory Explains Anomalies

Prospect theory attempts to describe the anomalies (paradoxes) seen when people make decisions around risk. For example, people tend to be risk-seeking when choosing between two losing options. But they become risk-averse when selecting between two positive options.

Loss Aversion Causes Avoidance

According to prospect theory, losses hurt more than equal gains feel good. This loss aversion causes people to avoid risk instead of seeking it. Investors will keep losing stocks longer than they should to delay realizing the loss.

Framing Influences Perspective

Small changes in framing options can shift perspectives on potential gains and losses. People become more willing to take risks when the decision is framed as a potential gain versus avoiding a loss.

Overconfidence Leads to Excessive Trading

Despite evidence to the contrary, most people consider themselves above average in their abilities. This overconfidence leads investors to trade excessively, thinking they can beat the market. In reality, overtrading often leads to poor results.

The Illusion of Control Triggers Risk Taking

Overconfidence can also stem from the illusion of control, the belief one can control uncontrollable events like tossing dice a certain way during a craps game. This can prompt unnecessary financial risks.

Confirmation Bias Perpetuates Beliefs

Many investors suffer from confirmation bias, looking for information that supports their beliefs while ignoring contradicting data. This tendency can lead to overconfidence in investing strategies that could be more prudent.

Present Bias Helps Explain Poor Savings Rates

Present bias refers to the human tendency to overvalue immediate rewards and costs compared to those in the future. This helps explain why many people need to save more for retirement or have high credit card debt.

Hyperbolic Discounting Values Now Over Later

A form of present bias, hyperbolic discounting makes people choose smaller payoffs now over more enormous rewards later. That’s why we must consider long-term budget implications before splurging on impulse buys.

Procrastination Derails Good Intentions

Present bias also manifests as procrastination. When benefits like compounded investment returns are delayed, and costs are immediate, it’s easy to wait to save and make poor financial choices.

Improving Financial Decisions Through Awareness

While behavioral finance shows how psychology can lead us astray, investors can improve financial decisions by being aware of these influences. Some best practices include establishing rules and automatic deposits/transfers, seeking input from objective third parties, and not checking investments too frequently.


Behavioral finance provides fascinating insights into the less-than-rational aspects of financial decision-making. Understanding these unconscious biases, cognitive errors, emotional influences, and more can lead to better choices by identifying where human psychology undermines prudent money management. Those able to recognize and compensate for their psychological stumbling blocks can gain an advantage in investing and personal finance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the key takeaway of behavioral finance?

A: The main takeaway is that human psychology often conflicts with rational financial decision-making. Being aware of these influences can help mitigate poor choices.

Q: How do cognitive biases impact financial choices?

A: Cognitive biases like overconfidence, confirmation bias, and herd mentality can lead to irrational financial decisions if left unchecked.

Q: What are some examples of emotional influences on money decisions?

A: Fear and anxiety may cause avoiding investments, anger can spur revenge trading, and regret makes selling losers difficult. Happiness from a stock’s climb may result in holding it too long.

Q: What is an investing best practice to compensate for behavioral finance tendencies?

A: Establishing automatic transfers and investments helps counter present bias tendencies to procrastinate. And avoiding checking portfolios constantly helps minimize fear-based decisions.

Q: How can behavioral finance concepts improve financial literacy?

A: Understanding common psychological money errors makes spotting and addressing them easier. This knowledge can meaningfully improve financial decision-making capabilities.