Commitment Bias is a behavioral phenomenon where people irrationally justify the continuation of a prior commitment despite new evidence that their original choice was incorrect or harmful.
It is commonly known as the Sunk-Cost Fallacy or the Escalation of Commitment.
Examples of Commitment Bias
- Pretending you wanted to do something you didn’t originally intend to do.
Jon is at a party. He gets up to use the bathroom. As he’s walking, he realizes he’s gone the wrong way: he’s headed towards the parking lot. When he looks back, he notices that many people saw his mistake. But instead of turning around and going back the right way, Jon decides to go out the door all the way to his car to get a trivial item, to make it look like it was his original intention to go to the parking lot instead of the bathroom.
- Doubling down on a lie.
David tells a pretty woman at a club that he drove a sports car to get there, even though in reality he took the train. It turns out the woman is so impressed that she asks him to take her for a ride right now. Rather than admitting that he lied, David takes her outside, spends 15 minutes looking for his non-existent sports car, and then makes a dramatic scene about how someone stole his car.
- Continuing to eat something you don’t really want to eat.
Roger is not that hungry but decides to buy a hot dog from a food truck. When he takes a bite, the hot dog is cold and and tastes old. Instead of throwing it out, Roger eats the entire hot dog, justifying that he already spent $2 on it and doesn’t want to waste food.
- Allowing a useless, toxic relationship to continue.
Eileen’s boyfriend has no job. He has a drug addiction that he tends to daily with the help of his equally useless friends. He’s parasitic. He rarely communicates. When he does, it’s usually negative and abusive. There is no sign of him changing for the better. In fact, he seems to be getting worse as the years go by. Recently, Elieen found out that he has been cheating on her. Despite all this, Eileen continues to suffer the relationship because they have two kids together and have been together for 10 years.
- Continuing to watch something you don’t want to watch.
Carol brings her kids to the movies. But it turns out the movie is more violent and inappropriate than she anticipated. But instead of leaving the movie theatre, she decides to stay because she already spent $50 and doesn’t want to upset her kids, who have been clamoring to go to the movie theatre all week.
- Continued social media use despite finding it unfulfilling.
Jermaine has an Instagram. Nobody ever notices or likes the photos he posts. This makes Jermaine feel invisible and worthless, especially since his “friends” always get tons of likes and acknowledgement. They also always seem to be having a much better time than he is. But Jermaine justifies keeping his Instagram because he’s afraid that everyone will forget about him if he deletes it.
Neutralizing Commitment Bias
It’s important to be aware when you’ve fallen prey to commitment bias. That way, you can catch yourself in the act and make a more rational choice.
You can spot commitment bias when you are attempting to justify a poor decision using irrational logic in the face of more attractive, beneficial options.
A good technique for neutralizing commitment bias, after you have become aware of its presence, is to imagine the current moment splitting into two roads. Down one road is your current course of action. Down the other road is an alternative option. Imagine both roads two hours from now, then a year from now, and then 10 years from now. Forget about how uncomfortable a certain road might be. Which is the road that leads to a better destination for you, your loved ones, and the world? Will you regret your decision if you choose to succumb to your commitment bias? Will it even matter? Will you have missed out on a better opportunity because you are justifying a lesser one?
You won’t always make the perfect decisions. But you can prevent yourself from making foolish ones.
Feel free to share your own commitment bias examples in the comments section.