Anchoring Effect in Trading

Anchoring Effect in Trading

A psychological phenomenon that significantly influences trading decisions is the anchoring effect. Anchoring refers to the tendency of individuals to rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive (the “anchor”) when making decisions. In trading, this cognitive bias can have profound implications, affecting everything from price expectations to risk assessments.

This article delves into anchoring effect in trading, exploring its causes, manifestations, and potential strategies to mitigate its impact.

What is Anchoring Effect?

The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that has been extensively studied in the field of behavioral economics. It was first documented by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in their seminal work on heuristics and biases.

According to their research, individuals tend to anchor their judgments or decisions to a reference point, often the first piece of information encountered, and subsequently adjust insufficiently away from that anchor when making subsequent judgments.

In the context of trading, the anchoring effect can manifest in various ways. For example, when investors are presented with a particular price level for a security, they may subconsciously use that price as a reference point, anchoring their subsequent price expectations and trading decisions around it.

Similarly, when evaluating the potential risk and return of an investment, traders may anchor their assessments to past performance or market benchmarks, leading to biased decision-making.


Let’s think about a pricing situation.

Imagine a person wants to buy a new laptop and finds two options: one priced at $1,000 and another at $2,000.

The person might see the $1,000 laptop as a good deal compared to the $2,000 one, thinking the $1,000 price is reasonable.

But if they had first seen a $3,000 laptop, the $2,000 one might seem like a better deal.

The anchoring effect is widespread and can affect many parts of decision-making.

It happens because our brains like to use shortcuts and quick ways of thinking. When we see new information, we tend to grab onto it and use it as a mental point of reference for other evaluations.

Causes of the Anchoring Effect in Trading

Several factors contribute to the anchoring effect in trading. One primary factor is the inherent complexity and uncertainty of financial markets. In the absence of clear and objective information, traders often rely on heuristics or mental shortcuts to simplify decision-making.

The anchoring bias emerges when traders latch onto the first available information, such as recent price movements or analyst recommendations, and subsequently adjust their judgments based on that initial anchor.

Moreover, human psychology plays a significant role in amplifying the anchoring effect. Research suggests that individuals have a natural tendency to seek coherence and consistency in their beliefs and judgments. Anchoring provides a sense of coherence by providing a reference point around which traders can orient their decisions, even if that reference point is arbitrary or irrelevant.

How Anchoring Effect Affects Trading?

The anchoring effect can affect various aspects of trading, influencing both individual investor behavior and market dynamics.

One common way is price expectations. Traders may anchor their expectations of future price movements to recent highs or lows, leading to exaggerated optimism or pessimism. As a result, securities may become overvalued or undervalued relative to their intrinsic fundamentals, creating opportunities for arbitrage or market inefficiencies.

Additionally, the anchoring effect can impact trading strategies and risk management. Traders may anchor their perceptions of risk and return to historical performance or industry benchmarks, leading to misjudgments of portfolio volatility and potential losses. This can result in suboptimal asset allocation decisions and increased exposure to market volatility.


Imagine you stumble upon news about stock XYZ, suggesting the company is working on a new drug that could cure cancer. After looking into it and finding positive reports and successful trials, you decide to buy shares of the stock.

You expect the stock price to go up, but instead, it starts to go up and down.

Then, you hear that the CEO sold some shares. But you still think the stock is good because of the promising drug the company is developing.

Even when reports come out saying the drug didn’t work for some patients, you still believe the stock will go up.

Later, you find out about layoffs at the company, which might mean problems with the drug’s development and delays in its release.

Despite these negative signs, which suggest doubts about the drug’s success and market potential, you stick to your original belief based on the first positive news you heard.

This behavior is common for everyone because it’s part of human nature.

Once you make a decision based on one reason, things can change later on. But even with these changes, you stick to your first reason, giving it more importance than it should have. So, you might not pay enough attention to new information that comes up.

Your bias sticks around because you stay anchored to your first decision.

Mitigating the Impact of the Anchoring Effect

While the anchoring effect poses challenges for traders, there are strategies to mitigate its impact and make more rational decisions.

One approach is to increase awareness of cognitive biases and actively challenge initial anchors by seeking diverse sources of information and conducting thorough analysis. By considering multiple perspectives and avoiding overreliance on any single reference point, traders can reduce the influence of anchoring on their decision-making process.

Another important and simple way to eliminate the effect of anchoring is by sticking to a good trading plan.

Furthermore, incorporating quantitative models and algorithmic trading strategies can help mitigate the influence of anchoring by basing decisions on objective data and predefined criteria. By automating trading processes and removing emotional biases from decision-making, traders can minimize the impact of cognitive biases such as anchoring.


The anchoring effect represents a pervasive cognitive bias that influences trading decisions in financial markets. By anchoring their judgments to arbitrary reference points, traders may exhibit irrational behavior and misjudge market dynamics, leading to suboptimal outcomes.

However, by increasing awareness of cognitive biases, employing systematic strategies, and leveraging quantitative models, traders can mitigate the impact of anchoring and make more informed decisions in the complex world of trading. Ultimately, understanding and managing psychological biases such as anchoring is essential for achieving long-term success in financial markets.