Escalation of commitment causes people to continue a failing course of action. We study the role of construal level in such escalation of commitment. Consistent with the widely held view of construal level as a primed effect, we employed a commonly used prime for manipulating this construct in a laboratory experiment. Our findings revealed that the prime failed to produce statistically significant differences in construal level, which was measured using the Behavior Identification Form (BIF). Furthermore, there was no effect of the prime on escalation of commitment, or on constructs that have previously been linked to construal level such as the perceived importance of feasibility considerations relative to desirability considerations, and the number of pros and cons that subjects can think of. Interestingly, however, subjects’ actual construal level scores on the BIF were found to significantly affect escalation. Specifically, our findings show that people with a low construal level are less willing to continue a failing project. This relation is mediated by the perceived importance of the feasibility of the project relative to its desirability. For people with a low construal level, the perceived importance of feasibility relative to desirability is higher, which in turn makes escalation of commitment less likely. Our findings are consistent with prior research suggesting that priming construal level may not always be effective. Thus, while construal level has typically been regarded as a state-like variable that can be primed, in this study, we show that construal level may also be considered as a trait.

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Theory and Decision: an international journal for multidisciplinary advances in decision sciences
Erasmus School of Accounting and Assurance (ESAA)