Why We Stay When We Know We Should Leave

Monday, May 20, 2013

Well marked exit signs at the Deutsche Bank building in lower Manhattan where there are only a few stories left to demolish. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

We’ve all found ourselves in bad situations, and chosen not to get out. On a personal level, those situations might be a bad jobs or unfulfilling relationships. On a bigger level, they might be international conflicts or government cover-ups. But regardless of scope, one question persists: Why is it that we so often stay, and for so long? To quote Kenny Rogers: Why don’t we know when to walk away, or for that matter, know when to run?

Turns out there’s a reason, and that reason has a name. It’s called “the sunk cost fallacy.”

Daniel Molden is an associate professor of social psychology at Northwestern University who specializes in motivated judgment decision making, and he knows a lot about why we stay when it's not in our best interest. 


Daniel Molden

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [2]

Betsy Tainer from University Place, WA

I experienced this in a job. I was very happy where I was at until I wound up with a neurautic supervisor/manager (he was a climber and used me for a ladder rung). I decided to leave eventhough I was heavily invested in the area. It was very interesting how it unfolded. I couldn't find another job to go to. I had a small farm. I started looking into how I could support myself with a small farm (moving included... more land, enough to support me) I started looking into all sorts of different ways I could support myself and was sharing it with my coworkers/colleagues. I learned through this that MANY of my coworkers/colleagues throughout this company felt very trapped in their lives and even broke out in tears as they expressed their feelings of being trapped in their situation and their lives. I had no idea. I also noted how very exciting the possibilities seemed once having made the decision to leave and seeking out my exit path. It was my excitement the lit the fuse for so many who didn't feel they had that option in their lives. It was very interesting how it all played out. The emotions were extreme. The possibilities were exciting. I'd be interested to hear more on this.

May. 20 2013 05:06 PM
Ed from Larchmont

In Catholic terms, this is a sign of the effects of original sin: we have a tendency toward bad things, which we have to fight against. Between the thought (that it's bad for us) and the act (avoiding it) falls the shadow - T.S. Eliot.

May. 20 2013 08:20 AM

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