Brief meditation sessions can reduce the tendency to base current decisions on past “sunk costs,” which are not relevant to the present choice, reported Wharton’s Sigal Barsade, with Andrew C. Hafenbrack and Zoe Kinias both of INSEAD.
“Sunk-cost bias” is the prevalent 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.
In these cases, people tend to focus on past behaviors rather than current circumstances, leading to emotion-driven decision biases.
Meditation practices can:
- Enable increased focus on the present moment
- Shift attention away from past and future actions
- Reduce negative emotions.
Barsade, Hafenbrack, and Kinias asked volunteers to complete Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, a widely used trait-mindfulness scale developed by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan of University of Rochester.
In addition, they 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 Andrew M. Parker of RAND Corporation.
In a decision task, participants could choose to take an action or to do nothing, as a measure of vulnerability to sunk-cost bias.
Propensity to take action indicated resistance to the sunk-cost bias, whereas those who took no action were seen as influenced by the sunk-cost bias.
Volunteers who listened to a 15-minute focused-breathing guided meditation were more likely to choose action and resist the sunk-cost bias than those who had not heard the meditation instruction.
Barsade’s team controlled for participants’ age and trait self-esteem, noting that, “People who mediated focused less on the past and future, which led to them experiencing less negative emotion. That helped them reduce the sunk-cost bias.”
Mindful attention also enables negotiators to craft better deals by “claiming a larger share of the bargaining zone” in distributive (“fixed pie”) negotiations, found Singapore Management University’s Jochen Reb and Jayanth Narayanan affiliated with National University of Singapore as well as University of California, Hastings College of the Law’s Darshan Brach.
These effective negotiators also expressed greater satisfaction with the negotiation process and outcome.
Mindful attention also leads to a lower negativity bias, the tendency to weigh negative information more heavily than positive, reported Virginia Commonwealth University’s Laura G. Kiken and Natalie J. Shook of West Virginia University.
They assessed negativity bias with BeanFest, developed by Shook, with Ohio State’s Russell Fazio and J. Richard Eiser of University of Sheffield.
This computer game asks participants to associate novel stimuli with positive or negative outcomes during attitude formation exercises.
Volunteers who listened to a mindfulness induction correctly classified positive and negative stimuli more equally, expressed greater optimism, and demonstrated less negativity bias in attitude formation than those in the control condition.
Mindful attention improves decision-making and enhances negotiation outcomes by reducing biases linked to negative emotions.
As a result, taking a brief mental break (“time-out”) during decision-making can improve choices and reduce the likelihood that “let the wrong emotions cloud the decision-making process.”
-*How do you evoke reduce bias in making decisions and crafting negotiation proposals?
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