Escalation of Commitment in Decision-Making


Escalation of commitment, also known as the sunk cost fallacy, is a cognitive bias and decision-making phenomenon where individuals or groups continue to invest resources, such as time, money, or effort, into a project or decision despite mounting evidence that suggests it is not succeeding or is unlikely to succeed. This bias often results in a reluctance to abandon a failing endeavor due to a prior investment, even when doing so would be the most rational choice.

Characteristics of Escalation of Commitment

  1. Sunk Costs: People are influenced by the sunk costs they have already invested in a project or decision, feeling compelled to “recoup” these costs by persisting, even if it doesn’t make sense.
  2. Emotional Attachment: Emotional attachment to one’s past decisions or investments can cloud judgment, leading individuals to double down on failing initiatives.
  3. Overoptimism: Individuals may become overly optimistic about the potential for success, downplaying or ignoring negative feedback or evidence.
  4. Fear of Regret: A fear of regret can drive escalation, as individuals worry that abandoning the endeavor will lead to regret for not having tried harder.

Impact of Escalation of Commitment

  • Resource Drain: Escalation of commitment can lead to a significant waste of resources, including time, money, and effort, on projects that are unlikely to succeed.
  • Strategic Inflexibility: It can limit an individual’s or group’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and explore more promising alternatives.
  • Psychological Stress: Persistent investment in a failing endeavor can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and frustration.
  • Diminished Reputation: Repeated instances of escalation can harm an individual’s or organization’s reputation for sound decision-making.

Mitigating Escalation of Commitment

  1. Objective Evaluation: Encourage an objective evaluation of the situation, focusing on current and future costs and benefits rather than past investments.
  2. Decision Accountability: Assign clear decision-making responsibilities within the group and establish accountability for ongoing evaluations.
  3. Exit Strategies: Develop exit strategies in advance, specifying conditions under which it is appropriate to discontinue a project.
  4. External Perspectives: Seek input and feedback from individuals outside the project or decision-making process to provide an unbiased perspective.
  5. Regular Reviews: Conduct regular reviews and assessments of ongoing projects to identify signs of failure or diminishing returns.

Benefits of Mitigating Escalation of Commitment

  1. Resource Efficiency: By avoiding the escalation of commitment, resources can be allocated more efficiently to projects with higher potential for success.
  2. Adaptability: It promotes adaptability and agility in responding to changing circumstances and opportunities.
  3. Improved Decision-Making: Rational decision-making, based on current information and objectives, leads to better overall outcomes.


Escalation of commitment is a cognitive bias that can lead individuals and groups to persist in failing endeavors, often to their detriment. Recognizing the presence of this bias, implementing strategies to mitigate it, and fostering a culture of objective evaluation can help individuals and organizations make more rational, efficient, and successful decisions. Balancing a commitment to goals with the flexibility to change course when necessary is essential for achieving long-term success.