Political Stubbornness: the “sunk cost fallacy”

I honestly hadn’t thought about this until I came across a report of an experiment involving lab mice and humans in Science Daily today. However, the sunk cost fallacy does provide a way of understanding modern American political behavior.

Basically, a person makes a decision and then continues to support that decision even when all sorts of contrary facts emerge. The time, effort and prestige invested in the decision become barriers to re-evaluating the decision. That’s the notion of emotional “sunk cost.”

Some people — Trump is an example — can avoid the sunk cost trap by rarely making commitments to any idea or position. As noted this week, Trump can attack Theresa May, the British PM, in and interview and then deny ever criticizing her. He simply doesn’t care and isn’t committed to any position regarding her.

You avoid the fallacy by avoiding commitment — but living a life without commitment presents issues as well. It’s certainly not very fulfilling.

Political followers often fall into the sunk cost trap, and that makes it very hard to have any intelligent discussion based on facts.

The sunk cost fallacy is a disaster-in-the-making in politics, personal finance, business decisions, relationships — you name it. The references below provided additional reading on this topic.

You need to be able to take a step back and seriously re-evaluate your beliefs and commitments every so often. Are they consistent with the kind of person you want to be? If yes, great. If not, . . . .

Maybe the American Psychiatric Association handbook will classify the sunk cost fallacy as a new form of mental illness in the future? Or perhaps it already has?


  1. Brian M. Sweis, Samantha V. Abram, Brandy J. Schmidt, Kelsey D. Seeland, Angus W. Macdonald Iii, Mark J. Thomas, A. David Redish. Sensitivity to “sunk costs” in mice, rats, and humans. Science, 13 Jul 2018: Vol. 361, Issue 6398, pp. 178-181 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar8644
  2. https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/resources/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/sunk-cost-fallacy/
  3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-files/201409/letting-go-sunk-costs
  4. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/how-the-sunk-cost-fallacy-makes-you-act-stupid.html

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