Engraving of a dog.

Mindfulness and decision-making: this isn’t the decider

In Making sense of mindfulness, Research by Norman Lamont

Engraving of a dog.The sunk cost fallacy or bias is a well-documented pattern of thinking that affects most of us in one way or another. Once we’ve invested time, money or effort in something it’s hard to let it go even when it’s failing and the more rational thing to do would be to give it up.  A difficult project is getting worse and is likely to fail so we spend more and more on it – the more we spend the harder it is to admit it’s going nowhere and we shouldn’t spend any more on it.  We usually call it ‘throwing good money after bad’.  Daniel Kahneman gives this example:

Two avid sports fans plan to travel 40 miles to see a basketball game. One has paid for his ticket; the other was on his way to buy it when he got one free from a friend. A blizzard is announced for the night of the game. Which of the two ticket holders is more likely to brave the blizzard to see the game?
(Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow)

This article suggests some meditation can reduce the likelihood of succumbing to this bias.  While it doesn’t surprise me that the perspective offered by the experience of meditation – that your thoughts are uncontrolled and that you can ‘see’ them and gain an objective view of them – would make you less prone to sunk-cost, I worry that this is another example of over-hyping mindfulness.

The participants were just talked through a short guided meditation and the cases were all hypothetical. I’d expect people to be more rational in hypothetical situations than in real situations where their emotions were invested.

The research asks a good and pertinent question, but I’d like to see some work on people trained and experienced in meditation and put in real situations before I’d be more impressed.

» Improving decision-making skills with mindfulness meditation in Psych Central.