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Is there a Sunk Cost Effect in Committed Relationships?


The sunk cost effect occurs when a prior investment in one option leads to a continuous investment in that option, despite not being the best decision. The aim of the present paper was to study the role of the sunk cost effect in committed relationships. In Experiment 1, participants (N = 902) were presented with an unhappy relationship scenario in which they needed to make a choice: to stay or end the relationship. Results showed that the likelihood of participants staying in the relationship was higher when money and effort, but not time, had been previously invested in that relationship. In Experiment 2, the time investment was manipulated and the sunk cost was evaluated using a different methodology. Specifically, instead of having a dichotomous decision, participants (N = 275) choose how much time they would be willing to invest in the relationship. Results revealed a sunk time effect, that is, participants were willing to invest more time in a relationship in which more time had already been invested.

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Correspondence to Paula Magalhães.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Rego, S., Arantes, J. & Magalhães, P. Is there a Sunk Cost Effect in Committed Relationships?. Curr Psychol 37, 508–519 (2018).

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  • Sunk cost effect
  • Time
  • Effort
  • Money
  • Committed relationships