HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Decision Science, and Management

Abstract

Escalation of commitment—the tendency to remain committed to a course of action, often despite negative prospects—is common. Why does it persist? Across three preregistered experiments (N = 3,888), we tested the hypothesis that escalating commitment signals trustworthiness. Experiments 1–2, respectively, revealed that decision makers who escalated commitment were perceived as more trustworthy and entrusted with 29% more money by third-party observers. Experiment 3 revealed that decision makers who escalated commitment subsequently made more trustworthy choices, returning 15% more money than those who de-escalated. Decision makers were equally likely to escalate commitment in public versus in private, possibly because they previously internalized how others would evaluate them. Complementing research examining cognitive factors driving escalation of commitment, the present work reveals that accounting for the reputational causes and consequences of decisions to escalate enhances understanding of why escalation is so common and suggests how organizations might reduce it.

Citation

Dorison, Charles A., Christopher K. Umphres, and Jennifer S. Lerner. "Staying the course: Decision makers who escalate commitment are trusted and trustworthy." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 151.4 (April 2022): 960-965.