The reference dependence roots of inaction inertia: A query theory account

Ruth Pogacar, Neil Brigden, Emily Plant, Frank R. Kardes, James Kellaris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inaction inertia is the tendency to forego an opportunity after missing a significantly better opportunity. We show that inaction inertia is rooted in reference dependence. This is consistent with prior work finding that smaller discounts are devalued and inertia is motivated by avoidance of loss. We further illuminate the process by showing that consumers treat the missed discount (rather than the regular price) as a reference point relative to which a smaller discount feels like a loss. Missing a significantly better deal causes people to focus first and foremost on thoughts critical of the current deal. Notably, consumers who miss a smaller discount also construe the second deal as a loss, even if they take it. This research integrates inaction inertia and reference dependence theory using query theory analysis to contextualize inaction inertia with biases such as loss aversion, anchoring, and the default effect.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0282876
Pages (from-to)e0282876
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Humans
  • Emotions
  • Affect
  • Mental Processes


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