The Sunk Cost Fallacy

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the sunk cost fallacy. For those who are not, or need a refresher, below is a useful explanation:

Individuals commit the sunk cost fallacy when they continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort) (Arkes & Blumer, 1985). This fallacy, which is related to status quo bias, can also be viewed as bias resulting from an ongoing commitment. For example, individuals sometimes order too much food and then over-eat ‘just to get their money’s worth’. Similarly, a person may have a $20 ticket to a concert and then drive for hours through a blizzard, just because she feels that she has to attend due to having made the initial investment. If the costs outweigh the benefits, the extra costs incurred (inconvenience, time or even money) are held in a different mental account than the one associated with the ticket transaction (Thaler, 1999).

Arkes, H. R., & Blumer, C. (1985), The psychology of sunk costs. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 124-140.

Thaler, R. H. (1999). Mental accounting matters. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. 12, 183-206.

The two spheres in which I have developed something of an expertise in my life are first, my professional legal practice, and second, the Mormon religion. The latter expertise comes not just from living the religion (which amounts to a substantial sunk cost of its own), but also from extensive efforts over the decades to learn more about the faith. For the past 35 years or so I have engaged in substantial reading, including in sources the average member doesn’t even know exist, discussions with people having a wide diversity of viewpoints, participation in various  conferences, publishing articles, giving presentations, and yes, writing blog posts. I suspect most of the people  who care enough to participate here have a similar set of extensive sunk costs related to their practice of the faith.

I’ve known about the sunk cost fallacy since my economics classes at BYU, and consequently I’ve often reflected that if I were ever to decide the Church just wasn’t for me anymore, I would simply walk away . (I sort of doubt I would start drinking coffee or alcohol, having never gained a taste for it in the first place, but you get the idea.)

But even though I understand the fallacy intellectually, I’m not so sure it would be as easy as I’ve imagined to simply walk away. Studying the Mormon faith and its scripture, history, doctrine and practice has been my avocation for decades. Sure, I could continue to study it without any longer being an actual participant in the faith, but for me my lived activity in the religion is a big part of my motivation to care and learn about it. I suppose I could switch teams and become a critic of the faith, but I really don’t see anything like that happening, such a path wouldn’t fit me temperamentally.

So even though I understand the fallacy and intellectually agree that I should not let my past investment in learning about the faith necessarily govern my future actions with respect thereto, I still feel the pull of retaining an engagement at least in part due to my extensive set of sunk costs with respect to the religion. Understanding the fallacy intellectually doesn’t necessarily mean that one is immune to its pull on one’s decisions and behaviors.

I’m curious about whether others have ever thought about their sunk religious costs and how such costs influence their current religious decision making, behaviors and practices. What do you think about this?

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I felt your heart as I read your thoughts. You truly are committed. Your thoughts made me ponder a bit.
    The thought that came to me is the absence of the strength, knowledge, protection, redemption, purification and much much more that comes from the Savior’s grace through the Atonement. In this way of thinking my cost never outweighs the benefits.

  2. Thanks for these thoughts. Yes, I’ve entertained the same ideas. Although I now consider LDS history to be very messy, its theology (if I dare use such a word to describe LDS doctrine) to be a can of worms, and its organization to be a case study in bureaucratic overreach, I have much invested in the Church. I particularly have a lot invested in its people. They are my people (although their politics, for the most part, drive me batty), and the organization, frustrating as it can be, still provides a multitude of opportunities to serve and grow. And I really don’t see any other religion that appeals to me. All theology, from my perspective, comes from one fact: God has not revealed in clarity what eternity or mortality is all about, so we have to try to figure it out, and we’re not very good at it. Mormons think they’ve got it figured out, but mostly that notion comes from those who haven’t looked at it very carefully. So I will stay.

  3. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Vegas is built upon the sunk costs fallacy, knowing that once people lose a little money, they’ll feel invested in the game and continue, losing even more. The companion fallacy is that of doubling-down, becoming even more committed and persistent. It troubles me that the Church doesn’t make it easy to step away from the table when you feel as though you need to re-assess your beliefs and reconstruct how you want to engage with it. You’re basically left with two options, double down, or burn all your bridges and leave. The former is usually unsustainable, and the latter makes it nearly impossible to return. There should be a mechanism for self-reflection and re-engagement. This is the antidote to sunk costs behavior. Some find a way to do it, but most lose their shirts.

  4. Thanks for this interesting post, Kevin.

    Sunk cost is a powerful business concept because the criteria for business success are relatively simple. If it doesn’t make a profit, a business will fail, regardless of how much emotional investment the owner has made. The concept of sunk cost can bring this fact more sharply into focus.

    It’s not as easy to apply the idea of sunk cost to aspects of life that have more complex measures of success. It’s probably not possible to quantify faith, happiness, hope, and other intangible things that are the currency of religion. Also, from the perspective of personal psychology, there is something to be said for the idea that our past investments of time and learning are never just sunk costs, because they always constitute our present state of being. The decision to make a religious conversion, for example, is not a decision to abandon sunk costs; it is a process of reconciling one’s past with one’s present and one’s hopes for the future.

    That’s not to say that the concept of sunk cost is useless in making life decisions. Sometimes a concept like this can help us simplify issues and recognize mistakes that we would otherwise miss. It’s just that life decisions can’t, or shouldn’t, be entirely reduced to something so simple.

  5. It seems to me that working out the “sunk costs” is looking for a lifeline, trying to find a rationale to keep doing whatever it is when you’re feeling on the edge. You don’t start calculating how much you’ve gambled until you’re worried about how much of a return you might never get. You don’t think about how much you’ve sunk into the Church until you’re thinking about leaving. I’ve had times when I think of how much I have invested in life while thinking of ending it. (was not fun, ok now, so dont worry. Also, doesn’t always cross the mind when contemplating suicide, so don’t take a meaning from it if you don’t think of what you’re leaving behind).

    I suppose I could work out how much I have sunk into the Church, but it wouldn’t be useful information as I’ve no intention of leaving. It’d be like working out how often I’ve eaten a sandwich, not really useful to know unless I started having regrets for the amount of sandwiches I’d eaten.

  6. I don’t know that the sunk costs fallacy applies to intellectual activity (education, experience, training) the same way it applies to cash. The analogy doesn’t sit right.

    Entering a new educational or technical field involves a sharp learning curve at first that levels out as your foundation grows stronger. It really is more costly to switch at 40 from accounting to law than to remain an accountant.

    I get that your point is about switching religions, not careers. But still, I’ll need to think about how the sunk cost fallacy may or may not apply there.

  7. Kevin Christensen says:

    Sunk cost..? well, it is after all a fallacy.
    My reasons for staying have to do with ongoing rewards directly relevant to the question of whether it is Real, not whether it meets some arbitrary desire or ideal, not whether everything that has happened or does go on is what I think or expect should be. When I experiment with the word, what grows? Does it continue to enlighten my mind and enlarge my soul? Do other people keep showing me things I would never have imagined, if I was left entirely to myself? Do I keep having experiences that I would have completely missed, without ever knowing what I has missing? Does it continue to be fruitful? Is there anything else of comparable future promise with the commitment?

    Sure, it can be frustrating, expensive, restrictive, and time consuming, but that is beside the point. Other LDS may do or say disturbing things, but that is also beside the point. That stuff has to do with Fear and Desire, rather than the Real.

    My own interests keep producing positive feedback. I read my share of counter-arguments, complaints, exit narratives, critical approaches, etc., and I continue to find them lacking persuasiveness and promise. In dealing with questions, I give things time, keep my eyes open, and re-examine my own assumptions now and then. When I run across something I did not expect, I consider, “What should I expect?” and the process of remove such beams from my own eye helps me see clearly.

    I think about George Bailey in Its a Wonderful Life, mired in misery when he looks at life from the perspective of his own personal frustrations, and overjoyed and able to cope with anything and anyone when he looks in terms of the significance of his personal relationships. And being surprised at unexpected blessings.

  8. Rexicorn says:

    I wonder if the sunk cost fallacy would apply to situations where people don’t want to leave the church simply because it’s all they know (the “where will you go?” problem). Mormonism tends to take over all aspects of a person’s life, so stepping away can have dramatic consequences. Maybe that’s something else, though.

    As for the stricter definition of the fallacy, I’ve definitely known people who stayed in a religion, relationship, career, etc., simply because they’d already put so much into it that they couldn’t face the thought of that all being wasted time. In that sense, it seems closely related to fear of failure. If you let go of this black hole, you might save your resources in the future (whether it’s money, time, emotional energy), but you’ll have to face the pain of disappointment and admit that your effort hasn’t paid off. Maybe what you’re really paying for is pain avoidance.

  9. Sometimes I have doubts about certain doctrine and I always have doubts about certain Church policies and procedures. But when I encounter these conflicts, I often remind myself that I’ve invested my entire life to the Church at one level or another (the peak being my mission). I guess I say to myself, “I’ve gone this far — why would I stop now?”. I suspect I’m not alone. So in a way, I’m rationalizing future Church activity or dedication based on my past, not just based on how I feel today.

    Here’s a great example: I can’t imagine not paying tithing. Because if I dared to stop paying now, I would feel as if everything I’ve paid in the past was a waste. The only way to justify my past tithing is to keep paying it and hope that indeed this is the Lord’s will. I’ve sunk thousands and thousands of dollars into it already, so why not continue because to stop would be to admit that I never needed to in the first place.

  10. Gilgamesh says:

    Turtle said “There should be a mechanism for self-reflection and re-engagement.”

    In some ways, this was the church of my grandparents in early 1900’s Utah. They were active, left for a while, came back, left, raised their kids who were active, left again. They smoked, drank and gambled, but they always felt they were a part of the church and the larger Mormon community.

  11. You’re a wise and insightful man. My main concern about the sunk cost fallacy is that it begs a crucial question, specifically the notion that religion and relationships ought to be viewed primarily in economic-utilitarian terms. I think that framing risks creating real blind spots that can induce us to misunderstand the nature of religion and relationships. When I think about the things that matter most to me in life (wife, kids, family, friends, food, religion, life of the mind) they all matter to me in substantial part because we have a history together. I don’t think that history maps well onto a sunk cost. They have helped to constitute me and will continue to do so, especially as I allow that our together extends across past, present, and future. I’m not primarily trying to do something (or build some scope of economic utility) with them: I’m in relation with them over long arcs of time, and I think that relation matters much more than marginal utility in successive slices of time. (I’ve been thinking a lot about the framing of fallacies within recent cognitive science lately and finding that many of them feel like subtle misprisions on careful consideration.)

  12. Bro. B. says:

    Turtle mentions the Vegas example of sunk cost compelling the gambler to keep trying. I and I think a lot of people look at religion more in the classical economics sense of gambling: the prospect of future (afterlife) gains are so much greater than their current price you are paying and have already paid that it keeps you going. On the other side of that coin, in order to escape some negative consequences, it keeps some people with one foot in their religion just in case they find out later that it was true after all. Personally I could never leave it, regardless of sunk cost, due to lived spiritual experiences I’ve had.

  13. Great post; great comments. The fact that we’re all here, bothering with this site, presupposes that we’re curious, that we read, dig, search, stretch, and think independently and creatively and, hence, share the struggles of wayfarers in a culture that has come to be (overwhelmingly) dominated by authoritarians. My wife and I were having this very conversation today, as we do almost every day. By our nature, we’re going to suffer and struggle in ways that 99% of our brothers and sisters don’t. (Which isn’t to say they’re not going to struggle in ways that we don’t. “Why can’t we take over the government and force everyone, by law, to live according to our standards?!” How frustrating that must be for them.) But yes, I’ve sunk too much into this–too much of my mind, soul, and body. I’ve wrestled with too much. I’ve had too many Dark Nights of the Soul. And it never ends. As painful as it is, no way am I going to abandon that hard history. What’s more, I adopt the history of the saints. Joseph Smith died for this. Lots of people died, were raped, tortured, dispossessed, exiled, and lost loved ones for this. THEIR investment becomes mine, as well.

  14. I have recently come to recognize Mormonism for what it is: a cult, not necessarily in the wacko sense of the word (though there is some of that in our history) but rather in the sense that it’s a cult like all religions are a cult. This awakening really started with the November 5 policy; I realized then the church isn’t the Christlike organization that it claims to be.

    But two things keep me attending: community and the many years I’ve devoted to the faith. Missions served to completion are a great binder to the church, not just because of the powerful experiences one has as a missionary, but also because giving up two years of your life for your religion really is an “all in” activity. It’s much harder to walk away from Mormonism when you pay to be a missionary for two years. I’m beginning to reach the point where I think I could walk away from the church as a bad (or at least break-even) investment but I haven’t figured out how to divorce myself from the community I love (and love to hate).

  15. Truckers Atlas says:

    After a long reckoning with this fallacy, I’ve left. One key phrase helped me complete the reckoning: If life outside Mormonism worked for my ancestors (exceptionally well for many of them), it can work for me.

  16. Tiberius says:

    There’s an assumption that everyone wants the Church to be true even if they lose their faith, but I think just as common are people for whom a part of them doesn’t want to the Church to be true, but they still believe it is. While I think the “sunk costs” issue is common for many who find themselves deep into the Church when they stop believing or whose natural lifestyles more or less comport with a Mormon lifestyle, for some of us our “natural man” tendencies act as a constant gravitational pull against being in the Church. Consequently, we’ve had to rely on positive, concrete reasons for staying in the Church our whole lives. The second I don’t have the truth claims keeping me pinned down I’m entering into another orbit.

  17. Rockwell says:

    My understanding is that the sunk cost bias[1] is so pernicious that even people who know it and understand it can not expect to completely mitigate its effects. But it’s worth trying.

    This bit caught my eye: “I’ve often reflected that if I were ever to decide the Church just wasn’t for me anymore, I would simply walk away .”

    I think the nature of the sunk cost bias is such that this point is moot: a person heavily invested in an idea does not give fair treatment to the arguments against it, and therefore may be incapable of concluding it is false, in spite of prevailing evidence, so the decision to walk away or not is never considered.

    —–
    [1] I have, in my comment, referred to the sunk cost “bias”, which may be different than the fallacy, in which case my point may still be true, but off topic.

  18. Rockwell says:

    Tiberius suggests that people whose natural inclinations make it difficult for them to live church standards may not be as affected by the sunk cost fallacy…. Well, this can cut both ways according to psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, who wrote Mistakes Were Made (But not by me).

    We’ll start with the classic sunk cost fallacy of money. Let’s say man pays tithing for several years. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests this person, seeing evidence against the church, is more likely to discount that evidence if he has paid more tithing. In fact, the more tithing he was paid, the less likely he is to believe negative evidence, according to their theory.

    Now suppose the same man is gay. If he is young and inexperienced he may be more likely to believe the negative evidence. But if he is older and has passed up opportunities for a same sex relationship, or perhaps entered into a mixed orientation relationship, than his sunk cost is higher, and according to Tavris and Aronson he would be more likely to discredit the negative evidence.

    In saying this, I’m trying to describe the theory put forward by these authors to the best of my ability, and not necessarily my own beliefs. But I do think I it is a reasonable interpretation of the studies they discussed.

  19. Happy Hubby says:

    The last few years I have taken a dive into how the mind works, including studying common fallacies. It was SO easy to read something and think, “I have seen Rick do that over and over and I don’t even think it realizes it.” It feels kind of good and superior.

    But after a while the thought did come to me that if most everyone else was unaware of when they are exhibiting these behaviors, could *I* be blind to when I do them.

    Since then when reading something like books from Jonathan Haidt I have gotten over the glee of being able to mentally point fingers and chuckle at the follies of others. Instead I am more worried about just how much *I* might be doing the these behaviors without even realizing it. It is humbling, but I also feel that is where growth comes from. Glad to see you are thinking the same way.

  20. IdahoMike says:

    Sunken cost fallacy as it relates to the church is just a fancy way of saying somebody’s “in denial.” I believe that denial in this context is the same thing one experiences when going through the several stages of grief. As one comment stated above, it’s really just about “pain avoidance.” We imagine a measure of pain is associated with leaving, but can’t quantify or understand it, and we also can’t fathom the freedom and happiness stage after we get through the rest of the stages of grief. It gets better – just keep on moving down the chain of stages and accept, don’t deny. It’s a lot happier place to be.

    Is there anybody out there that’s three or four years out from leaving the church that disagrees? Anybody who wishes they hadn’t left?

  21. Sunk cost “fallacy” is a poor label, in my opinion. Calling it a fallacy tends to make people reactionary rather than reasonable. I would rather call it a truism and proceed from there.

    To explain, the primary observation is that I will feel tethered to decisions and investments already made. It happens. It’s how the mind works. The secondary observation is that the tether, the tug to the past, is disproportionate or irrational. Not that it is wrong or a nothing, but that the unexamined tether is likely to be much stronger than the examined tether. As simple as saying “when I stop to think about it, the money I spent on that ticket matters, but not so much as to drive through a blizzard.”

    The advice that comes out of “sunk cost” discussions ought to be “stop and think about it.” The problem is that when framed as a fallacy people tend to hear “do the opposite.”

    For myself, when I wake to the fact that I feel overwhelmingly depressingly compelled and constrained by past choices (including–just to tie this back to Mormonism–things said in LDS temples), I try to fight against the rebellious thoughts, the throw-off-all-shackles! thought. Instead, I try to stop and think about it. To say to myself that the past matters, that what has come to be as a result of the past matters more, and that the future–what I want to be–matters the most.

  22. Tiberius says:

    @ Rockwell

    That’s makes sense with past costs, but I think we also need to incorporate present costs, which may not be insignificant. If our proverbial gay closeted Mormon was neighbors with and was attracted to handsome Bob, and handsome Bob makes a pass at single-ward-with-no-kids PGBM everyday, then PGBM is in the position of deciding every day if it is worth it, as opposed to somebody for whom there were costs in the past but they’ve hit diminishing returns.

    @ Happy Hubby

    Where I draw the line is in drawing conclusions about particular cases, which you can’t do because we’re not omniscient. It’s clear that in the aggregate cognitive biases are a real thing, but we’re really not in a position to draw anything from a single case. Also, it’s important to not draw hard conclusions about what lies beneath the cognitive biases besides the fact that they’re there, then we get into weird Freudian territory about mothers, cigars, and such.

    @IdahoMike. If they wish they hadn’t left then they’d probably be back in the Church.

  23. is it lunch time yet? says:

    IMO, logical fallacies, like the sunk cost are of limited use in real life situations. Logical decisions are not the same thing as moral ones or even correct ones.

  24. IdahoMike, my only regret about leaving is that I didn’t do it sooner. The worst sunk cost argument, by the way, is that since the pioneers made so many sacrifices, we need to keep making them—letting their past investments affect our future actions.

  25. Rexicorn says:

    Christian Kimball, you make a good point that just because something’s a fallacy doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It just means it’s not logical. We tend to value logic over its opposite, but it’s actually a neutral concept.

    A personal example of positive sunk cost thinking: when I was a kid my mom spent a lot of time trying to inoculate me against eating disorders, because she saw that I was at risk for them for various reasons. So she spent countless conversations talking to me about body image, healthy self-esteem, risk behaviors, etc. I mostly thought it was silly, but I recognized what she was doing. And when I finally found myself on the brink of seriously disordered eating behavior, the one thought that pulled me back was “My mom spent so much time and effort trying to keep me from doing this, and I’d hate for her to think that was wasted.” It was kind of a vicarious sunk cost argument, but it worked.

    So I think, like most things, it can work for good or bad. If you’re in a situation in which you’re getting really poor outcomes and you’re likely to get more of them in the future, then it can trap you. But I’ve also known people who got through tough times by remembering the investment that got them there, and came out the other side better for it.

    I do think it’s very helpful to be aware of these kind of cognitive biases and tricks, because you aren’t likely to be aware of them in the moment. My forays into CBT have taught me that my brain likes to trick itself, and not always for the best in the long run.

  26. My Only regret leaving is that I did leave and that I didn’t return sooner.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    I appreciate all the fascinating comments. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m honestly not sure what to think about it, so I find the discussion helpful. And Chris, I like your thought that “fallacy” is the wrong word; we should be aware of the issue and potential bias, but we should think it through thoroughly.

  28. jaxjensen says:

    I’ve been having the same thoughts Kevin, but for different reasons. I want to be in the church, but it doesn’t want me. I’ve been in a permanent ‘not-in-good-standing’ position for about 18 months now, and what I’ve been told will be about 3 more years, at which time the stake will hold a council and excommunicate me, for behavior that happened during a PTSD panic attack. The SP wants me gone.

    So for the next 3 or more years, what do I do? Do I try to stay active? Pay tithing? Attend meetings? Do I invest more into a church that is telling me it doesn’t want me? Do I plan on trying to come back at the end of however long I have to stay exed? Would I even be allowed to return at the end of that time? Is it worth the “investment” at all, or should I just cut loose now?

    And then the subsequent questions of talking to wife and kids about it all… frustrating. How much cost have I sunk… and do I keep sinking more???

  29. Rockwell says:

    “Is it lunch yet?” Suggests that an understanding of fallacies is not actually very helpful in the real world. (Forgive me if I’m putting words in your mouth)

    I worry a bit that in having this discussion in a forum that is generally for faithful members, and in making the discussion examples deal with leaving the church, that we have made it difficult to look objectively at the nature of sunk cost bias/fallacy/truth.

    I have to disagree with “Is It lunch yet”. And I wonder if they would have said the same thing if the discussion wasn’t church related. I mean, formal logic isn’t the only thing to consider, but I think that sound reasoning, along with empathy, is a key factor in morality and ethics. If logic isn’t important, than what is a better way to navigate the world?

    In the 1970s, the Washington Post and New York times published the Pentagon papers, which revealed that the US had been continuing the Vietnam war for years with little or no expectation of victory. After being involved so long in a terrible war, the leaders didn’t want to bring the troops home with nothing gained. I wonder how many lives were lost and families destroyed because of the sunk cost in the war?

  30. Michael says:

    I think this concept of sunk cost fallacy is crucial. I don’t think many of my orthodox relatives and friends see it as a sunk cost, rather a wise investment that will bear eternal fruit. But I think for many of those who browse here, it is a big factor keeping them at least on the fringe of the Mormon fold.

    For me it is more complicated. We spend our money on things in 2 categories; necessary and discretionary expenses. For some religion is a necessity and others it is discretionary. It is easier to walk away from discretionary costs than necessary ones. Religion is very much a necessity for me.

    Consider food. It is necessary. One might buy it at the company store.They might constantly raise the price and cut the quality until it isn’t worth it. Another store might have better food but is too far away. Another one might be great except it doesn’t have gluten free food for people with gluten sensitivity.

    I have attended many Protestant churches over the years since my wife became a born-again Christian. They are so much better in so many ways. Mormonism in comparison is like a really low-quality, high-cost company store. But the trinity, sola scriptura, infant baptism, no pre-life and so forth are like doctrinal gluten for me. I can’t digest it. I gag down the fare at the Mormon _affle house. Other than the waffles cooked on separate appliances, the grill there is gluten free.

  31. Is it lunchtime yet? says:

    Rockwell,
    I do not mean to say that logic is irrelevant or unhelpful. I am merely reacting to the many instances, including in this post, where it seems to be placed as the best standard in moral decision-making.

    I reject the idea that if something we are doing is illogical, then there must be something wrong with it. I may be naive but I would say that intuition is at least as reliable a guide as logic in decision making.

    Hot take: The internet arguments that devolve into each side endlessly accusing the other of committing a logical fallacy are the worst kind of internet arguments.

  32. Kristine says:

    I’m with lunchtime–a worldview filtered through the lens of economics and formal logic is pretty impoverished. There are lots of words for “sunk costs” in other discursive universes–commitment, community, sacrifice, pain, effort, labor, duty, love. I think those words are a lot more useful for describing the human experience we want to talk about with the church.

  33. Andrew R. says:

    Yes, I have considered it, though not using that term (I have not studied anything at BYU, let alone economics. I have not studied economics anywhere). But I have considered whether, in light of certain feelings, do I continue out of faith or previous investment?

    The answer may be a “bit of both”. But any continued church involvement should always be with faith. If it wasn’t with faith (and hope) then it would be simply because of loss of investment. I have served in a great many different callings, pretty much all the ones you could think of minus Bishop and being a member of the stake presidency. Every other ward and stake calling I have held. I have enjoyed them. I have gotten something out of doing them. So I continue. I am now EQP (in this brave new world). It is not the calling I remember doing 25 years ago. And the members have changed a great deal in that time too. In some ways it would be easier to walk away now than it would have been back then – after all those callings.

  34. The original post is a potential argument against persisting in anything, be it good or bad. That part of the question is left begging. In the current context, it may be seen as an argument against Gal. 6:9. Or maybe not. Maybe it is an argument against persisting in sin. It all depend on what is being pursued.

    Anyone can play this game. Why is this thread still open? The sunk cost fallacy. Why does BCC continue as a blog? The sunk cost fallacy.

  35. Rexicorn says:

    Leo, I think you’re missing some key components of the fallacy. It’s the argument that one should persist in something *solely* because of prior investment, and not because of either future gains or current benefits. So sure, it applies to lots of different contexts. But to say that BCC only stays open because of the sunk cost fallacy is to say that nobody derives any benefit from it and they most likely won’t find any benefit in the future.

  36. I have a contrary analogy that might provide a different perspective.

    Suppose I decided one day that I was tired of being a US citizen. All of my life thus far are “sunk costs” after all and there is continued costs in the present. 1) I can move to another country. There are likely to be some barriers to entry and I may be a “fish out of water.” Hopefully they are hospitable to foreigners. As a wise person, I would choose the country carefully with as many pros and as few cons as possible. Still, there are likely to be costs of membership and problems in whatever country I might choose. 2) I can start my own country – possibly on an island. This to me is not feasible. I benefit mightily from the infrastructure and social systems of modern society that have been built up by those that came before me. Those sacrifices too can be seen as “sunk costs”. They are in the past. Yet if I were to start over I would need to pay similar costs again.

    This is not to say that no person should ever renounce their citizenship. I am sure that it happens all the time for a variety of reasons.

    This analogy is not perfect. Religion in the past had more in common with nationality than it does now. In our more secular society the “barriers to exit” from one religion to another or to no religion entirely have been greatly reduced. Still, I believe that the comparison is helpful.

  37. Interesting ideas. I wonder if it is like marriage. The “sunk costs” aren’t the only costs. If you decide to leave a marriage there are many present and future costs (cost of living will go down, I’ll see my kids less, my spouse might kill me, my next spouse might be worse, I’ll have to move, I’ll have to change jobs, I’ll miss my inlaws, etc.). Leaving the church might have many costs. So in your ticket analogy, if you don’t use the tickets, you’ll have to stay in a hurricane, if you use the tickets you have to drive in a blizzard.

  38. jlouielucero says:

    Idaho Mike. There are many people who have left including me that regret it and either come back or don’t come back but sort of wish they could. There are also many who leave and are happier. It’s not a one size fits all scenario. Being in the financing world there are many times you may think it’s best to cut bait from sunk costs, but many times that decision could be wrong and you were just evaluating the investment with newer biased information that convinced you the sunk costs were bad. That is why it is difficult to make those kinds of decisions.

  39. Angela C says:

    I think about sunk cost fallacy a lot, mostly related to career / business, but sometimes related to other personal choices like church. It’s hard to reduce every decision economically like this, though. We aren’t very objective about the things we invest our time in, nor can we be. I sometimes think people leave the church because investing in relationships with these weirdos is hard, and for sure a bunch of the culture stinks. But when the chips are down, the Mormons usually come through like nobody’s business. I’m now in an aging ward. Their political views are mostly morally objectionable to me. There’s quite a bit of ignorance, sexism and racism, and just plain scriptural illiteracy–and that’s just the teachers! It’s tough to like some of them, but easier to love them. It feels as though we are in a ward with people we will be burying for the next decade or two and then maybe it’s our turn. We aren’t getting much out of it in terms of personal edification, connections, being supported, etc. But we have a chance to give that’s real. It’s a sunk cost, but so is life.

  40. A Turtle Named Mack, I agree that another option should be made available as well. Human thinking certainly frames it in such a manner, doesn’t it? We’re conditioned to avoid casting off those things in which we’ve invested a great deal of time, thought, effort, and general personal resources. It feels wrong to abandon those elements that have come to define us, much as religion can do.

    At times I feel at odds with my own faith and view of the world, uncovering some small element which doesn’t jive with my belief system and leaving me unsure of how to process my thoughts rationally. Usually, I am left with that same conundrum: do I throw out all I’ve come to believe throughout my life or redouble my efforts to rationalize my beliefs with some new wrinkle? The item must be tended to and it feels as though either path must be chosen.

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