Meditation and the Sunk-Cost Bias

Too often, people stay at bad jobs or in bad relationships too long, eat too much, or hold on to losing stocks because of the time or money they’ve already sunk into a situation—what researchers call the “sunk-cost bias.”
Meditation and the Sunk-Cost Bias

But three researchers have found that those who practice mindfulness meditation—the act of clearing one’s mind and focusing on the present moment—can overcome this bias more easily.

The authors include Andrew Hafenbrack, a doctoral candidate in organizational behavior at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France; Zoe Kinias, assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD; and Sigal Barsade, professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The group conducted experiments in which one group of participants listened to a 15-minute focused-breathing meditation. Another group heard a recording that simply asked them to think of whatever came to mind. Then both groups described their emotional response to a sunk-cost scenario. Those in the meditation group expressed less negative emotion than those in the control.

“Meditation reduced how much people focused on the past and the future, [which] led to less negative emotion,” says Kinias. “The reduced negative emotion then facilitated their ability to let go of sunk costs.”

“Debiasing the mind through meditation: mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias” appears in the February 2014 issue of Psychological Science.