Escalation of commitment

Escalation of commitment

Escalation of commitment was first described by Barry M. Staw in his 1976 paper, "Knee deep in the big muddy: A study of escalating commitment to a chosen course of action".[1] More recently the term sunk cost fallacy has been used to describe the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the cost, starting today, of continuing the decision outweighs the expected benefit. Such investment may include money, time, or — in the case of military strategy — human lives. The phenomenon and the sentiment underlying it are reflected in such proverbial images as Throwing good money after bad and In for a dime, in for a dollar (or In for a penny, in for a pound).

The term is also used to describe poor decision-making in business, government, information systems in general, software project management in particular, politics, and gambling. The term has been used to describe the United States commitment to military conflicts including Vietnam in the 1960s - 1970s and in Iraq in the 2000s, where dollars spent and lives lost justify continued involvement.[2]

Alternatively, irrational escalation (sometimes referred to as irrational escalation of commitment or commitment bias) is a term frequently used in psychology, philosophy, economics, and game theory[citation needed] to refer to a situation in which people can make irrational decisions based upon rational decisions in the past or to justify actions already taken. Examples are frequently seen when parties engage in a bidding war; the bidders can end up paying much more than the object is worth to justify the initial expenses associated with bidding (such as research), as well as part of a competitive instinct.


  • The dollar auction is a thought exercise demonstrating the concept.
  • After a heated and aggressive bidding war, Robert Campeau ended up buying Bloomingdale's for an estimated 600 million dollars more than it was worth. The Wall Street Journal noted that "we're not dealing in price anymore but egos". Campeau was forced to declare bankruptcy soon afterwards.[3]
  • Often, when two competing brands are attempting to increase market share, they end up spending money without either increasing market share in a significant manner. This can be seen as a commercial application of the Red Queen hypothesis. Another example was the competition in the 1970s between the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 jetliners - two planes that were similar in size and architecture and therefore competed in the same niche of the market. In the end both products cannibalised each others sales and ultimately drove their manufacturers out of the commercial airliner business.

See also


  1. ^ Barry M. Staw: "Knee-deep in the Big Muddy: A Study of Escalating Commitment to a Chosen Course of Action". Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 16(1):27-44.
  2. ^ Barry Schwartz, The Sunk-Cost Fallacy, Bush Falls Victim to a Bad New Argument for the Iraq War,, Sept. 9, 2005, retrieved 6-11-08
  3. ^ Max H. Bazerman: Negotiating Rationally January 1, 1994 (ISBN 0-02-901986-9).

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • escalation of commitment — Increasing the resources available to an unsuccessful venture in the hope of recovering past losses. This is sometimes called a creeping commitment. This policy is often adopted in new product development when the company continues to pour in… …   Big dictionary of business and management

  • De-escalation — This is a commonlly used term in Social Work practice. It is used as an anger management tool to remove tension between two participants in a conflictual relationship or intervention. A cooling off period is experienced and then the potential for …   Wikipedia

  • Eskalierendes Commitment — Das Eskalierende Commitment oder auch Entrapment bezeichnet eine individuelle Tendenz, sich gegenüber einer früher getroffenen Entscheidung verpflichtet zu fühlen und diese über die Bereitstellung zusätzlicher Ressourcen zu stützen, obwohl sich… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • List of psychology topics — This page aims to list all topics related to psychology. This is so that those interested in the subject can monitor changes to the pages by clicking on Related changes in the sidebar. It is also to see the gaps in Wikipedia s coverage of the… …   Wikipedia

  • Martin Shubik — (né le 24 mars 1926) est professeur émérite d’Economie Institutionnelles mathématiques à l’Université Yale. Il a étudié à l’Université de Toronto et à l Université de Princeton. En poste à la faculté de Yale depuis 1963, le Professeur Shubik est… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Influence Science and Practice — Influence: Science and Practice (ISBN 0 321 18895 0) is a Psychology book examining the key ways people can be influenced by Compliance Professionals . The book s author is Robert B. Cialdini, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State… …   Wikipedia

  • Post-purchase rationalization — is a common phenomenon after people have invested a lot of time, money, or effort in something to convince themselves that it must have been worth it. Many decisions are made emotionally, and so are often rationalized retrospectively in an… …   Wikipedia

  • Progress trap — A progress trap is the condition societies experience when, in pursuing progress, human ingenuity inadvertently introduces problems that the society does not have the resources to solve, preventing further progress. Social collapse is often the… …   Wikipedia

  • commensurate — adjective of a proportionate or similar measurable standard If it is essential in our interests to maintain a quasi permanent position of power on the Asian mainland as against the Chinese then we must be prepared to continue to pay the present… …   Wiktionary

  • Konpa — are a type of Japanese drinking gathering held by university students in a casual drinking establishment called an izakaya, and are more relaxed than the traditional nomikai . It is often suggested that this word originally came from the German… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”