Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things . . . well, new things aren’t what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds … Not news but olds, telling people that what they think they already know is true.
—Terry Pratchett through the character Lord Vetinari from his The Truth: A Discworld Novel
Hal Arkes and Catehrine Blumer created an experiment in 19S5 which demonstrated your tendency to go fuzzy when sunk costs come along. They asked subjects to assume they had spent S100 on a ticket for a ski trip in Michigan, but soon after found a better ski trip in Wisconsin for S50 and bought a ticket for this trip too. They then asked the people in the study to imagine they learned the two trips overlapped and the tickets couldn’t be refunded or resold. Which one do you think they chose, the $100 good vacation, or the $50 great one?
Over half of the people in the study went with the more expensive trip. It may not have promised to be as fun, but the loss seemed greater. That’s the fallacy at work, because the money is gone no matter what. You can’t get it back. The fallacy prevents you from realizing the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not which negates the feeling of loss in the past.
Fundamental attribution error was conducted in 1967 by Edward Jones and Victor Harris at Duke University. They had students read speech transcripts of debaters both in support of and in opposition to the political ideologies of Fidel Castro. (Today they might have used Osama bin Laden.) The students correctly attributed the speechwriter’s ideas as influenced by the speechwriter’s internal feelings when told the person who gave the speech had chosen his own position. If, for instance, the debaters said they disagreed with Castro, the students said they believed them. When the students were told the debater had no choice in the matter and was assigned the position as either pro- or anti-Castro, the students didn’t buy it. If the debater was assigned a pro-Castro position and then gave a pro-Castro speech, the students reading that speech told the researchers they thought the debater really believed what he or she was saying. The situation’s influence didn’t play into their assumptions; instead they saw all the debaters’ words as springing from their character.