Mindfulness Meditation Improves Decisions, Reduces Sunk-Cost Bias

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade


Andrew Hafenbrack

Andrew Hafenbrack

Sunk-cost bias” is the tendency to continue unsuccessful actions after time and money have been invested.
Frequent examples include:

  • Holding poorly-performing stock market investments,
  • Staying in abusive interpersonal relationships,
  • Continuing failing military engagements.
Zoe Kinias

Zoe Kinias

In these cases, people focus on past behaviors rather than current circumstances, leading to emotion-driven decision biases.

Brief meditation sessions can help decision makers consider factors beyond past “sunk costs,” reported Wharton’s Sigal Barsade, with Andrew C. Hafenbrack and Zoe Kinias of INSEAD.

Meditation practices can:

  • Enable increased focus on the present moment,
  • Shift attention away from past and future actions,
  • Reduce negative emotions.
Kirk Brown

Kirk Brown

The team asked volunteers to complete Mindful Attention Awareness Scale,  developed by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan of University of Rochester.

Richard Ryan

Richard Ryan

They also measured participants’ ability to resist “sunk cost” bias using Adult Decision-Making Competence Inventory, developed by Leeds University’s Wändi Bruine de Bruin with Baruch Fischhoff of Carnegie Mellon and  RAND Corporation’s Andrew M. Parker.

Wändi Bruine de Bruin

Wändi Bruine de Bruin

In a decision task, participants could take an action or to do nothing, as a measure of sunk-cost bias.
Taking action indicated resistance to the sunk-cost bias, whereas those who took no action were influenced by the sunk-cost bias.

Baruch Fischhoff

Baruch Fischhoff

Volunteers who listened to a 15-minute focused-breathing guided meditation were more likely to choose action, resisting sunk-cost bias, than those who had not heard the meditation instruction.

Andrew M Parker

Andrew M Parker

Barsade’s team noted that, “People who meditated focused less on the past and future, which led to them experiencing less negative emotion. That helped them reduce the sunk-cost bias.

Jochen Reb

Jochen Reb

Mindful attention enabled negotiators to craft better deals by “claiming a larger share of the bargaining zone” in “fixed pie” negotiations, found Singapore Management University’s Jochen Reb, Jayanth Narayanan of National University of Singapore, and University of California, Hastings College of the Law’s Darshan Brach.
Effective negotiators also expressed greater satisfaction with the bargaining process and outcome. 

Jayanth Narayanan

Jayanth Narayanan

Mindful attention also leads to a lower negativity bias, the tendency to weigh pessimistic information more heavily than positive, reported Virginia Commonwealth University’s Laura G. Kiken and Natalie J. Shook of West Virginia University.

The team assessed negativity bias with BeanFest, a computer game developed by Shook, with Ohio State’s Russell Fazio and J. Richard Eiser of University of Sheffield.

Natalie Shook

Natalie Shook

Participants associated novel stimuli with positive or negative outcomes during attitude formation exercises.

Russell Fazio

Russell Fazio

Volunteers who listened to a mindfulness induction correctly classified positive and negative stimuli more equally, expressed greater optimism, and demonstrated less negativity bias than those in the control condition.

J Richard Eiser

J Richard Eiser

Mindful attention improves decision-making and enhances negotiation outcomes.
It does this by reducing biases linked to negative emotions.

As a result, taking a brief mental break (“time-out”) during decision-making can improve choices and can reduce the possibility that “the wrong emotions cloud the decision-making process.”

-*How do you reduce bias in making decisions and crafting negotiation proposals?


 ©Kathryn Welds


4 thoughts on “Mindfulness Meditation Improves Decisions, Reduces Sunk-Cost Bias

  1. Beanstalk Coaching

    Reblogged this on Beanstalk Coaching and commented:
    It’s interesting to see research backing up what a lot of people who regularly meditate already know. I’m also interested in the suggestion that people take “mental time out” before making decisions: this is what people who are naturaly reflectors do, and I’ve found that they often come back with the best ideas and thoughts if they’re allowed the space they need.

  2. Pingback: Opened-Minded Success | Motivation to Succeed

  3. kathrynwelds Post author

    Fernando Xavier
    Chief Executive at Jardine Schindler Group

    This is a good discussion and very relevant as Mindfulness training continues to grow in popularity. For me it is about calming the mind and cutting out some of the mental “noise” that afflicts most of us. In this way one can see the reality of the current situation more clearly rather than being misled by our bias and preconceptions. This and the fact that Mindfulness training also helps us to create a gap between the spark and the flame, should lead to better decision making.

    Annie M. likes this
    Aaron Walker
    View From The Top. Professional Life & Business Coach

    Huffington’s new book Thrive speaks at length on meditation. Meditation is a new practice for me. However, I do see and understand the value. I’m careful not to confuse spirituality with meditation. Allowing your mind a break and preparing for the day seems a great place to interject a few minutes of solitude and meditation.


    Kathryn Welds

    Thanks, Fernando, for the vivid metaphor and helpful reminder “to create a gap between the spark and the flame..”
    Sometimes the flame can become a wildfire or conflagration or inferno, if fueled by emotion.

    Thanks to Aaron for referring to Ariana Huffington’s Thrive – http://www.amazon.com/Thrive-Redefining-Success-Creating-Well-Being/dp/0804140847 .
    Introspection and its near relative, meditation, have strong secular traditions as well as spiritual.
    For some contexts, like business or education, it’s valuable to distinguish between meditation as a self-awareness and self-management practice distinct from a spiritual practice, as you point out.

    Chris Coventry

    Thank you again Kathryn, I agree with so much of what has been said, but I hope you won’t mind me disagreeing slightly also? And I apologize if I’m misinterpreting some of the comments, but I do feel quite strongly that you cannot separate the two as a practice – meditation will lead to mindfulness, and it is and always will be a spiritual practice; the exploration of your own inner states & awareness cannot be anything else. But this is not to be confused with religion! In terms of the business/education environment this is a growing trend and I would point towards the work of Harvard’s Robert Keegan on Vertical Learning, and the recent white paper on Conscious Capitalism by Barrett C Brown. The ability to cope with increasing complexity will be fundamental for future leaders, and I think meditation/mindfulness will be a key component in generating this change. This is a really hot subject at the moment (thank you again for hosting it!)

    Edwina L. likes this

    Edwina Love Lawrence
    Justesse Executive Coaching

    Chris, I agree with you on this ; I think it’s difficult to separate experiences of mindfulness/meditation from a connection with something “beyond self” , and absolutely agree this is nothing at all to do with religious belief. My concern is that, if packaged by the corporate, Mindfulness practice will become a ” got to”, and used as a tool to support the generation of wealth, rather than providing a framework for people to nourish themselves and to explore the transpersonal. I’ve already come across mindfulness work being included in support provided for employees in a major change process to help them “manage”, when the change process itself was flawed and introduced for ego-based political reasons. (Nothing new there!) It’s great for all to be able to access mindfulness practices, to manage stress, to feel more connected with themselves, but it’s essential that it is placed in an ethical, even if not a spiritual context. It isn’t just a tool!

    Chris C. likes this

    Thanks, Chris, for pointing to these important resources:

    * Keegan’s and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s work on theories of adult learning, development and change in their book, Immunity to Change.


    Their work on adaptive-horizontal learning contrasting adaptive-vertical learning drew on work by Ronald Heifitz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow, differentiating acquired-technical-horizontal learning and adaptive–vertical learning in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World.


    * Brown’s paper on Conscious Capitalism drew on Nick Petrie’s definition of vertical learning as “…the transformation of how a leader thinks, feels, and makes sense of the world,” considered to be a top trend in leadership development.

    Click to access futuretrends.pdf

    These ideas also build on John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia’s book, Conscious Capitalism.

    https://metaintegral.org/sites/default/file /MetaIntegral_Brown_The%20future%20of%20leadership%20for%20conscious%20capitalism.pdf


    Thank you, Edwina, for pointing to the use of mindfulness and meditation in organizational settings as a change management “tool” as well as a stress management “tool.”

    Chris C. likes this

    Continuing note on Chris’s discussion of horizontal vs vertical development-learning.
    Nick Petrie explained that most organizations enable employees’ “horizontal” development of competencies transmitted by an expert, but provide little support for “vertical” development (developmental stages), which is “earned” by the individual.

  4. kathrynwelds Post author

    George Sykopetrites wrote:

    I also use mindfulness meditation as an extra tool for my clients toolkit. It’s incredible how many books are being published on this subject and how few of them are really relevant. Also not everybody can stick to it in the long run. I personally find it vital in a multitasking society!!

    Kathryn Welds wrote:
    Thank you for mentioning the challenges of self-discipline and multi-tasking, George.

    Mindfulness and meditation are called “a practice” because these actions require consistent engagement and commitment to apply greater attentiveness to moment-to-moment experience than people who live “on auto-pilot” in a state of “mindlessness,” according to Harvard’s Ellen Langer.

    You’re right, too, about the prevalence of multi-tasking as a habit or “badge of honor.”
    Cliff Nass of Stanford demonstrated the performance toll of multi-tasking even though multi-taskers report efficiency and accuracy.

    For a summary of multi-tasking’s cost, see https://kathrynwelds.com/2012/06/16/videogames-as-cognitive-enhancers/
    Gender differences and neural bases of multi-tasking are discussed here: https://kathrynwelds.com/2014/02/09/womens-multitasking-skill-linked-to-neural-network-patterns/


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