Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

May 1995


Published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 1:4 (1995), pp. 251–269. Copyright © 1995 American Psychological Association. Used by permission. “This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.”


Study participants rated the quality of several arguments for continuing an original plan in sunk cost situations in order to (a) avoid wasting resources, (b) learn to make better decisions, (c) punish poor decision making, and (d) appear consistent. The lesson-learning argument was perceived as most appropriate when adult teachers taught lessons to others, the original decision was carelessly made, or if it consumed comparatively more resources. Ratings of the lesson-learning argument were higher for teacher-learner than for adult-alone situations, regardless of whether the learner was a child or an adult. The implications for improving decision making and judging whether the sunk cost effect is a bias are discussed.