An aversion is an intense dislike of an object, situation, or activity. Behaviorally, aversion is demonstrated through avoidance. Aversion to an object, situation, or activity may be conditioned through associating the object, situation, or activity with a painful or unpleasant stimulus.

In psychology, types of aversion that have been studied extensively include:

  1. conditioned (learned) taste aversion,
  2. risk aversion, and
  3. loss aversion.

A common example of conditioned taste aversion occurs with food poisoning. When food poisoning occurs, the symptoms (vomiting, etc.) are so unpleasant that one single instance of associating the tainted food with the vomiting and other symptoms can produce a long-lasting aversion for that type of food. For instance, one of the authors developed an aversion to spaghetti with tomato sauce that lasted for several years after experiencing food poisoning symptoms following a spaghetti dinner.

Conditioned taste aversions have been studied formally. Freman and Riley (2009) describe the history of the study of conditioned taste aversions. As they discuss, research on conditioned taste aversion began shortly after World War II and followed two main lines, both of which were related to military concerns.

The purpose of one line of research was to develop techniques to control rodent infestations in foxholes and on beachheads.

A second was an attempt to understand the effects of radiation on organisms. Within a few years, a large volume of research had been produced. Some areas that have been researched in addition to those areas described are using taste aversion to treat alcohol addiction, taste aversions in pregnancy, and taste aversions in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Risk aversion and loss aversion have also been subject to study. These concepts are most often applied to economic decision-making behavior.

Risk aversion is the reluctance that an individual has to make a choice in which the payoff is uncertain when at the same time, another, more certain choice with the possibility of a lower payoff is available.

For instance, an individual could be asked to choose between two options. The first option involves being given $25, no strings attached. The second option involves tossing a coin. Heads up, the individual receives $50 and heads down, she receives $0. The risk-averse person will choose the certain $25.

American statistician and mathematician John W. Pratt (1964) developed the idea of risk aversion in the 1960s, and theorizing and researching about the concept has exploded over the decades. A number of excellent books are available describing risk-averse and risk-loving behavior under uncertainty, including Bernstein’s Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (1998) and Kahneman and Tversky’s edited volume Choices, Values, and Frames (2000).

Loss aversion is an overweighting of losses compared to gains (Kahnman & Tversky, 1979).

In general, large losses are more salient in our memories than large gains and have the potential to affect future risk-taking behavior more than do larger gains.

In fact, people who have developed loss aversion in a particular area have greater risk aversion in that area. For instance, if one lost her life savings at age 50 due to investing in risky stocks in the stock market coupled with a downturn in the marker, in the future, she will tend to invest more conservatively in the stock marker or perhaps invest outside of the stock market altogether, for instance, in real estate. The loss has led to loss aversion, which is expressed as risk aversion. Bernstein describes several real-life examples of loss aversion in his book Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk.

See also:
  1. Bernstein, P. L. (1998). Against the gods: The remarkable story of risk. New York: John Wiley.
  2. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (Eds.). (2000). Choices, values, and frames. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Freeman, K. B., & Riley, A. L (2009). The origins of conditioned taste aversion learning: A historical analysis. In S. Reilly & T.R. Schachtman (Eds.), Conditioned taste aversion: Behavioral and neural processes (pp. 9 – 33). New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (Eds.). (2000). Choices, values, and frames. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Unviersity Press.
  5. Pratt, J. W. (1964). Risk aversion in the small and in the large. Econometrica, 32, 122 – 136.