In spite of the headline this blog is not suddenly offering relationship advice. Sadly, I see insights into negotiation and mediation everywhere. That must be explainable by some known cognitive bias but that’s not the point. This article on relationships popped up in one of my feeds and its lessons for the negotiator are obvious.
People (and mice, and rats) over-value sunk costs in their decision-making processes. Time for us to value the future more.
Citing a 2018 research paper published in Science magazine “researchers found in experiments on mice, rats, and humans that the higher the sunk costs in a situation, the stronger their will became to keep pursuing a desired result. The paper describes this tendency as a ‘cognitive bias [that has] persisted across evolution’ despite its relative lack of utility in good decision-making.”
In mediations, whether as an advocate or as a neutral, I often see this play out. As a business student, many (many, many) years ago, I was taught the importance of ignoring sunk costs when making decisions. Easier said than done, especially when the past involves real or perceived slights by the opposing party. Helping the conscious mind (most people know the importance of looking forward in resolving disputes) overcome this cognitive defect is an important role a good mediator takes on.