Sunk Cost Fallacy: A Roadblock to Rational Decision-Making

1 minutes reading time
Published 9 Nov 2023
Reviewed by: Kasper Karlsson

In the realm of economics and psychology, the "Sunk cost fallacy" looms as a common cognitive bias that entangles individuals and businesses alike, leading to poor decisions. But what is the sunk cost fallacy definition? Simply put, it is the irrational commitment to a course of action because of previously invested resources (time, money, or effort) that cannot be recovered, regardless of the current or future benefits of sticking to or abandoning that course.

The Psychology Behind Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy plays on human emotions, particularly the aversion to loss. People tend to value their investments and feel that abandoning them would render their prior efforts or expenses as waste. This emotional investment overrides logic, where the correct course of action would be to assess the situation based on potential future returns rather than past costs.

Sunk Cost Fallacy in Relationships

When we talk about sunk cost fallacy relationships, the concept takes on a more personal tone. Individuals may stay in unfulfilling or problematic relationships due to the time, effort, and emotional investment they have poured into them. The thought process here is, "I've spent five years with this person, so I must work harder to make it work," even if the relationship has been detrimental for a long time. This is a prime example of the sunk cost fallacy in the emotional domain, where the fallacy seduces one into escalating commitment just because of the investments made in the past.

Real-world Sunk Cost Fallacy Examples

The business world is full of sunk cost fallacy examples. Consider a company that continues to fund a failing project because they've already invested a significant amount of capital into it, despite clear indicators that it will never turn profitable. Similarly, an individual might continue attending an expensive school or training program they dislike because they feel tied to the time and tuition they've already spent, rather than transferring or dropping out to pursue a more fulfilling or practical opportunity.

Overcoming the Sunk Cost Fallacy

Overcoming the sunk cost fallacy requires self-awareness and a strategic approach to decision-making. It entails:

  • Acknowledging the existence of sunk cost fallacy.

  • Making decisions based on future value rather than past investments.

  • Seeking objective advice when personal judgment is clouded.


The sunk cost fallacy is a pervasive bias that can impede personal growth, relationships, and business success. Understanding and recognizing when we're falling prey to it can empower us to make more rational and rewarding decisions. Whether it's in our personal lives or in the boardroom, learning to cut our losses and move forward, not anchored by past investments, is a lesson in wisdom and emotional intelligence.

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