The Sunk Cost Trap is another of those cognitive heuristics that can catch us all out. It describes how the more we have invested in something, the less willing we are to let that investment go. So instead of ‘cutting our losses’, we often find ourselves ‘doubling down’.
We literally do this with financial investments but it is also present in other positions we hold. In other words, when we are faced with negative outcomes from a decision we have made, we are likely to escalate our commitment to that decision. This is totally irrational, but then so is much of what really happens in our heads.
If you have any interest in global politics then you’re probably already thinking that the notions of sunk costs and escalation of commitments are useful in understanding why support for Trump remains strong among his admirers. How strong, you ask? According to a poll published recently by Reuters, 85 percent of those who voted for Trump in 2016 said they would do so again.
These cognitive traps also explain why fact checking Trump’s most fanciful claims makes no difference to those supporters. Or, as Vox put it, “Trump supporters know Trump lies – they just don’t care”.
In this regard Trump’s presidency is a remarkable gift to social science, using the largest stage in the world to demonstrate off one cognitive bias after another.
But the uncomfortable truth is that we are all Donald Trump to some extent. Like him and his supporters, facts that contradict our own treasured assumptions are unlikely to change our minds too. Just like him, we’re all confident idiots at heart.
It’s just that some of us are more confident (and more idiotic) than others.