What is Commitment Bias?

Uncertainty and Misinformation

Tl;dr: Commitment bias is when we stick to what we did or said in the past, even when we were clearly wrong, and the outcome didn’t turn out well.

We are more likely to exhibit this if those behaviors were public and others were aware. Commitment bias can limit our personal growth and ability to learn from mistakes, but it can also be used to help us follow through on goals.

Commitment bias, also called escalation of commitment, is a cognitive bias that occurs when we remain committed to a course of action, behavior, or belief even when we are wrong and there are negative outcomes.

Let’s look at an example. Rebecca got her dream job as a lawyer that she has been working for since she was a child. And it is making her miserable. Rebecca was much happier working in a science lab in undergrad but she told herself and others for so long that she wanted to be a lawyer, that she keeps on keeping on. This is an example of commitment bias. We are all likely to stick with or defend actions and beliefs we expressed in the past, especially if they are public, even when presented with good evidence that those actions were wrong, led to bad outcomes, or just plain sucked.

Why do we do this? Lots of reasons, including a desire to be consistent, saving face, and self-justification. Commitment bias is particularly uncomfortable if the past conflicts with our current values. We inherently want to be internally consistent with things we believe strongly in. No one likes to feel like they made a mistake or that people are judging past behaviors. It can be cognitively easier to shift our views and values, than to grapple with past errors or face difficult truths.

Commitment bias can limit our ability to learn and grow. To avoid it, we must first come to terms with the idea that consistency isn’t always the bees’ knees. It’s ok, even preferable, to change and grow. As we gain knowledge and experience, our values and understanding change. It’s admirable to admit when past behaviors weren’t ideal or in line with our current values. People may judge you for that, but frankly, that’s on them!

We can also use commitment bias to our advantage. Announcing publicly intended behavior changes or goals can increase the likelihood of success! Want to exercise more, learn to garden, or fix that car? Share that goal with others and commit!

Stay safe. Stay well.

Those Nerdy Girls


Additional Links:

Decision Lab: Commitment Bias

Commitment Bias Definition

Heuristic Encyclopedia: Commitment Bias

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