Friday, December 17, 2010

The Negative Emotional Response

As this site has grown in reach over the last couple of years, the amount of reader feedback I have received has accelerated. Unquestionably, the articles that generate the most feedback are those related to particular securities (as opposed to a general article on investor behaviour...like this one). However, while the majority of sites stick to writing about stocks on which they are bullish, I also tend to write about stocks in which I'm not interested, in order to discuss the reasons that add to an investment's risk or subtract from its return. As a result, I've been in a position to observe some interesting reader behaviour.

If someone does not own a stock, and they come across a positive article about it, it doesn't seem to bother them much. I can tell because I have never received hate mail over this! On the other hand, if someone does own a stock, and they come across a negative article about it, they seem to take it personally! This results in my receiving racial slurs, demands for public apologies, and threats that I will be reported to the SEC.

But for everyone who actually initiates a personal attack, there are likely many others who managed to overcome the strong emotional reaction that they felt. Nevertheless, their decision-making ability with respect to this particular security may still have become marred with an emotional bias. I must admit that when I read a negative article about a stock on which I am bullish, I too feel a twinge of anger at the author (though this tendency has definitely dissipated over time as I have gained more experience). By recognizing this tendency, however, investors can take conscious steps to force themselves to have an open mind and to objectively consider the author's points. By doing so, investors can avoid some of the psychological investor pitfalls we've previously discussed.

There are a vast number of factors, many of which are quite subjective, that go into a decision to purchase a particular stock. As such, it follows that even people with similar investment philosophies will disagree on whether a particular security makes for a good investment. And that's okay: investors who turn out to be correct about one particular security will not necessarily be right about others. In the meantime, we can't tell who's right; all an investor can do is try to learn and thereby improve his "batting average", as Warren Buffett likes to call it. Key to this is overcoming the personal feelings involved in objective discussions of relevant securities.

7 comments:

Mike said...

You're doing a great job Saj and I appreciate your posts everyday, whether I agree with them or not. Keep up the great work.

Mike

Paul said...

very insightful, Saj. I would expect nothing less!

Alex K said...

My guess is they think your negative analysis will cause the price to drop as owners sell upon hearing the bad news.

This is my first comment here but I have been lurking for a few months. I have bought some of your suggestions and you have made me several thousand dollars. So thank you! I'm also learning a lot.

silentbob said...

Hi Saj,

This is the first time I comment, but I love your blog and I am a regular reader. Your posts on investor psychology are my favorites!

You're absolutely right in saying that the best way to fight these tendencies is recognizing that we are vulnerable to them, and then just taking the time to reason.

I had always assumed the angry reaction to negative stock opinions is due to cognitive dissonance. Not sure where I picked that up though. Does this seem likely to you?

K2 said...

Sorry to hear you get that kind of flak. Horrible. Your blog rocks.

I always turn to "risk factors" when I'm long a security so I hear the counter-argument. Then I yell racial slurs at the risk factors. It's all part of my investment process.

Saj Karsan said...

Thanks, guys!

Yeah I agree with your conclusion, Silent.

Parker Bohn said...

Saj,
Please post negative comments on all stocks I own!

A dissenting opinion is much more valuable to me than a supporting one. After all, I already understand the bullish thesis.

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