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Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation improves decision-making skills

Friday, March 14, 2014 by: Luke Jones
Tags: mindfulness meditation, decision making, sunk-cost bias

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(NaturalNews) A recent series of studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can improved decision making, by reducing the tendency to allow unrecoverable prior losses to influence current choices.

Mindfulness meditation is a practice typically aimed at clearing one's mind, usually achieved by sitting quietly and focusing on the sensation of breathing. It is a technique often used to cultivate awareness of the present moment, as opposed to dwelling on past events or those that may occur in the future.

Mindfulness has been linked with reduced stress, anger and negative emotions as well as increased happiness and well-being -- all of which are thought to influence decision making and sunk-cost bias.

Sunk-Cost Bias

Sunk-cost bias is the tendency to let unrecoverable prior costs influence decision making. Common examples in everyday life include the difficulty in ignoring advice that has been paid for and changing plans that one has invested time in.

This type of behavior is sometimes attributed to people not wanting to appear wasteful or admit defeat, which can cause difficulty in letting past events go. This can lead to major bias in decision making.

The Study

Researchers from INSEAD and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania hypothesized that, because mindfulness meditation cultivates awareness of the present, it may reduce the tendency of prior losses to impact the decision-making process.

Four studies were undertaken, the first of which investigated the correlation between trait mindfulness and resistance against the sunk-cost bias. A sample of 178 online participants in the USA completed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale and carried out a series of sunk-cost bias evaluation questions.

Studies 2a and 2b examined the impact of state mindfulness on sunk-cost bias resistance following a brief introduction to mindfulness meditation. The focus group took part in a 15-minute guided meditation, whereas the control group was permitted to think freely during the same time period. Both groups then completed a series of sunk-cost scenario questions.

The final study focused on the mechanisms behind the hypothesis, investigating temporal focus (e.g past, present or future), negative affect (moods and emotions) and their involvement in the relationship between mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias. After a process similar to that in studies 2a and 2b, a questionnaire was used to determine whether the participants were focusing on the past, present or future, and what emotions they were experiencing currently.


All four studies demonstrated that mindfulness can have a significant impact on resistance to the sunk-loss bias and, in turn, improves decision-making.

A strong correlation was shown between trait mindfulness and resistance to sunk-cost bias in study 1. In both study 2a and 2b, it was found that the 15-minute meditation session significantly increased resistance to the sunk-cost bias. In experiment 2a, 78% of the participants in the meditation group resisted the sunk-cost bias, compared to 44% of the control.

In the final study, participants in the mindfulness state reported a greater awareness of the present moment than those in the control. Mindfulness meditation was shown to decrease temporal focus on the future and past, as expected. This then reduced negative affect, which subsequently led to a greater resistance to the sunk-cost bias.


The results of the studies suggest that, by practicing mindfulness for just a short time period and focusing on the present, past occurrences and future possibilities are less likely to have an impact on decision-making.

This promising set of findings may encourage further research into mindfulness and the potential role of emotions and temporal focus in resistance to the sunk-cost bias.

Sources for this article include:

Hafenbrack, A. C.; Kinias, Z.; and Barsade, S. G. (2013). Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias. Psychological Science, 0956797613503853.

About the author:
Luke Jones is the creator of Health Room, the blog dedicated to investigating and sharing ideas in plant based nutrition, moving freely, living mindfully and existing sustainably.

Luke is a graduate of Imperial College London, a martial artist, and plant based nutritionist.

He enjoys exploring natural movement and eating a whole-food, plant based diet. He also loves seeing other people chase their dreams, and realise their health potential.

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