Vicarious Entrapment: Your Sunk Costs, My Escalation of Commitment
18 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2009 Last revised: 4 Nov 2009
Date Written: June 15, 2009
Individuals often honor their own sunk costs, increasing their commitment to failing courses of action, from financial investments to wars. Because honoring sunk costs is driven by self justification processes, a widely offered prescription for preventing escalation of commitment is to have a different, second individual make subsequent resource decisions. In contrast to this proposed remedy, three experiments explored whether creating a psychological connection between the first and second decision-maker leads the second decision-maker to invest further in the failing program orchestrated by the initial decision-maker. Across three studies, employing different escalation scenarios, we found that multiple forms of psychological-connectedness - perspective-taking and interdependence - led decision-makers to vicariously justify others’ initial decisions, escalating their commitment to the earlier investments. Overall, psychological connections between decision-makers undermined the most accepted prescription for deescalation. These results have important implications for organizations and public policy and for theories of escalation.
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