Self-justification - Decision Making: Conflict Escalation

Decision Making: Conflict Escalation

One major claim of social psychology is that we experience cognitive dissonance every time we make a decision; in an attempt to alleviate this, we then submit to a largely unconscious reduction of dissonance by creating new motives of our decision making that more positively reflect on our self-concept. This process of reducing cognitive dissonance regarding decision-making relates back to the problem of individual becoming stagnant in a course of action. Furthermore, once an individual makes a decision dissonance has begun. In order to alleviate this dissonance, he or she rationalizes their actions either by changing them, or in this case continuing on in their course of action, perpetuating their qualifying beliefs. In this case, the question concerns the source of the breakdown of rationale that causes the continuation of such disadvantageous behavior.

Prior studies have shown that individuals tend to become locked into a particular course of action, by means of sequential and escalating commitments, resulting in detrimental personal decisions and many other evitable disastrous events. After acknowledging this fundamental attribute of human behavior, it is necessary to understand if these situations arise from concrete decisional errors or are just simply how the events panned out.

There is a large pool of data concerning the justification of behavior in much of the social psychological studies on forced compliance. In these studies the expected result is “ that individuals will bias their attitudes on the experimental task in a positive direction so as to justify their previous behavior”. In one such study Staw et al. investigated whether decision makers could become overcommitted to a course of action- as is typical following decision related dissonance. The assumption in this particular study was that individuals would go beyond “the passive distortion of adverse consequences in an effort to rationalize a behavioral error.” The consensus among the researchers was also that certain individuals who had experienced setbacks might attempt to “turn the situation around” or in other words display some kind of “ultimate rationality to his or her original course of action.” In the study, the researchers implemented a simulated business case design, in which an administrator could regain loses by committing to new resources. Business school students were asked to fill the role of corporate financial officer and allocate research and development funds to either one of two divisions of a company. In the end, the “findings supported the predication that administrators may seek to justify an ineffective course of action by escalating their commitment of resources to it.” Upon interpreting the findings Staw claims that this, along with several other studies exploring the role of justification in decision-making, subtly highlighted an internal justification process, or in other words an intra-individual process in which people tend to act in ways to protect their own self-image.

Being mindful of escalating commitment to a particular course of action, especially when said actions are failing or having some kind of negative effect on others is very important. This carefulness to avoid the aforementioned behavior can be applied to many aspects of our lives-both in the business world and in more unconventional every day situations. For example, in the Staw study mentioned above, the effects of a growing need for justification was seen in a business workplace setting. In this type of environment it is ideal to make sure that none is continuing on with unfavorable ideas simply because they have rationalized that somehow everything will be successful in the end. Likewise in personal situations involving stocks and investment issues, recognizing when one is only continuing investments out of desperate and misguided hope that things will begin to improve is essential to personal finance and well being. This understanding is not only essential to matters involving finances, but can also be applicable in any situation where a disadvantageous behavior is being perpetuated when clearly it has no merit.

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