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Not even emotional attachment, whatever that means, can really be called in as an explanation, since the effect is both instantaneous and sometimes felt even by those who buy and sell for a living.

According to Pete Lunn, an economist at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, professional market traders are often reluctant to sell investments they already hold, even though they could trade them for assets they would prefer to invest in if starting from scratch. Dr Thaler, who recently had some expensive bottles of wine stolen, observes that he is “now confronted with precisely one of my own experiments: these are bottles I wasn't planning to sell and now I'm going to get a cheque from an insurance company and most of these bottles I will not buy.

Because the endowment effect touches on so many areas, Dr Jones thinks it may be helpful for legislators to understand its evolutionary origins.

That goods and rights such as pollution permits, radio spectrum and mobile-telephone licences do not inexorably flow towards the most efficient distribution worries the legal scholars charged with designing fair allocations.

And an opposite endowment effect was observed when the chimps were given juice.

Observing the endowment effect in three primate species suggests it does, indeed, have deep evolutionary roots.

In that case, those who were reluctant to trade might get better prices.

The pattern and location of the activity he observed suggests the endowment effect works by enhancing the salience of possible loss.In 2006 Keith Chen of Yale University showed that capuchin monkeys could learn to do so, and also seemed to exhibit the endowment effect. In the chimp study, tubes of peanut butter and frozen juice bars were used.Both treats were designed to be difficult to eat quickly.And despite Dr Lunn's observations, other work suggests professional traders can, and do, overcome the effect. Owen Jones, a professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt University, and Sarah Brosnan, a primatologist at Georgia State University, suspect the answer is that, in the evolutionary past, giving things up, even when an apparently fair exchange seemed to be on offer, was just too risky.These days, as they discuss in a paper just published in the , there are contracts, rights and other ways of enforcing bargains. As Adam Smith observed in the “Wealth of Nations”, “nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.” To put flesh on their idea, Dr Jones and Dr Brosnan have been trying to overcome Smith's observation by training chimpanzees to trade.

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