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Searching for the Sunk Cost Fallacy

  • Daniel Friedman

    (UC Santa Cruz)

  • Kai Pommerenke

    (UC Santa Cruz)

  • Rajan Lukose

    (HP Labs)

  • Garret Milam

    (UC Santa Cruz)

  • Bernardo A. Huberman

    (HP Labs)

We seek to isolate in the laboratory factors that encourage and discourage the sunk cost fallacy. Subjects play a computer game in which they decide whether to keep digging for treasure on an island or to sink a cost (which will turn out to be either high or low) to move to another island. The research hypothesis is that subjects will stay longer on islands that were more costly to find. Nine treatment variables are considered, e.g. alternative visual displays, whether the treasure value of an island is shown on arrival or discovered by trial and error, and alternative parameters for sunk costs. The data reveal a surprisingly small and erratic sunk cost effect that is generally insensitive to the proposed psychological drivers.

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File URL: http://econwpa.repec.org/eps/exp/papers/0407/0407007.pdf
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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Experimental with number 0407007.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: 29 Jul 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpex:0407007
Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 30
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://econwpa.repec.org

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  1. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
  2. Parayre, Roch, 1995. "The strategic implications of sunk costs: A behavioral perspective," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 417-442, December.
  3. Northcraft, Gregory B. & Neale, Margaret A., 1986. "Opportunity costs and the framing of resource allocation decisions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 348-356, June.
  4. Offerman, T.J.S. & Potters, J.J.M., 2006. "Does auctioning of entry licences induce collusions? An experimental study," Other publications TiSEM d72095fa-6c74-49a2-8c82-2, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  5. Hey, John D., 1987. "Still searching," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 137-144, March.
  6. Cox, James C & Oaxaca, Ronald L, 1992. "Direct Tests of the Reservation Wage Property," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 102(415), pages 1423-32, November.
  7. Schotter, Andrew & Braunstein, Yale M, 1981. "Economic Search: An Experimental Study," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 19(1), pages 1-25, January.
  8. Sonnemans, Joep, 2000. "Decisions and strategies in a sequential search experiment," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 91-102, February.
  9. Tan, Hun-Tong & Yates, J. Frank, 1995. "Sunk Cost Effects: The Influences of Instruction and Future Return Estimates," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 311-319, September.
  10. Avinash K. Dixit & Robert S. Pindyck, 1994. "Investment under Uncertainty," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 5474.
  11. Sonnemans, Joep, 1998. "Strategies of search," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 309-332, April.
  12. Arkes, Hal R. & Blumer, Catherine, 1985. "The psychology of sunk cost," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 124-140, February.
  13. Rabin, Matthew, 1997. "Psychology and Economics," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt8jd5z5j2, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  14. Lorne Carmichael & W. Bentley MacLeod, 2003. "Caring About Sunk Costs: A Behavioral Solution to Holdup Problems with Small Stakes," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(1), pages 106-118, April.
  15. Harrison, Glenn W & Morgan, Peter, 1990. "Search Intensity in Experiments," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 478-86, June.
  16. Meyer, Donald J., 1993. "First price auctions with entry: An experimental investigation," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 107-122.
  17. Garland, Howard & Newport, Stephanie, 1991. "Effects of absolute and relative sunk costs on the decision to persist with a course of action," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 55-69, February.
  18. Whyte, Glen, 1993. "Escalating Commitment in Individual and Group Decision Making: A Prospect Theory Approach," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 430-455, April.
  19. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521456821 is not listed on IDEAS
  20. Camerer, Colin F. & Weber, Roberto A., 1998. "The Econometrics and Behavioral Economics of Escalation of Commitment: A Re-examination of Staw and Hoang's NBA Data," Working Papers 1043, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  21. Cox, James C & Oaxaca, Ronald L, 1989. " Laboratory Experiments with a Finite-Horizon Job-Search Model," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 2(3), pages 301-29, September.
  22. Heath, Chip, 1995. "Escalation and De-escalation of Commitment in Response to Sunk Costs: The Role of Budgeting in Mental Accounting," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 62(1), pages 38-54, April.
  23. Kogut, Carl A., 1990. "Consumer search behavior and sunk costs," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 14(3), pages 381-392, December.
  24. Hey, John D., 1982. "Search for rules for search," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(1), pages 65-81, March.
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