Multiple reference points in satisfaction and fairness assessment

Lisa D. Ordóñez, Terry Connolly, Richard Coughlan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

139 Scopus citations


Most studies of reference point effects have used a single referent, such as a price, a salary, or a target. There is considerable evidence that the judged fairness of, or satisfaction with, an outcome is significantly influenced by discrepancies from such single referents. In many settings, however, more than one reference point may be available, so the subject may be confronted simultaneously with some referents above, some at, and some below the focal outcome. Little is known about the simultaneous impact of such multiple reference points. We examine here the effects of two referents on ratings of salary satisfaction and fairness. Subjects were presented with a series of scenarios that described a salary offer made to a hypothetical MBA graduate and provided information about the salary offers made to either one or two other similar graduates. For each scenario, subjects judged how fair the focal graduate would feel the offer to be, and how satisfied he or she would be with it. Satisfaction ratings displayed asymmetric effects of comparisons: the pain associated with receiving a salary lower than another MBA is greater than the pleasure associated with a salary higher than the other student by the same amount. Fairness ratings showed a different pattern of asymmetric effects of discrepancies from the reference salaries: the focal graduate's salary was judged somewhat less fair when others received lower offers, and much less fair when others received higher offers. The asymmetric effects occurred for both reference points, suggesting that the focal salary was compared separately to each of the referents rather than to a single reference point formed by prior integration of the referents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-344
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


  • Distributive justice
  • Fairness
  • Multiple reference points
  • Satisfaction
  • Social comparison

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management


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