Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Previous research suggests that decision-makers who are responsible for initiating a failing course of action are more likely to escalate their commitment to that action, compared to those who are not responsible for the initial choice. It is purported that responsibility for initiating a failing course of action induces the escalation of commitment through an underlying psychological process of self-justification. Two problems are evident in this research, however, that question the validity of this interpretation. First, the effect of responsibility has only been demonstrated using a role-playing research methodology. Second, responsibility for initiating the course of action (operationalized as choice) typically has been confounded with a requirement to publicly justify one's decision, a factor that might engender a process of self-presentation. Two experiments were conducted that addressed these limitations. The first was designed to assess the generalizability of the findings of previous research to an ongoing (laboratory) decision-making context. Subjects, who believed they were the leader of a group, were required to make decisions about how members of the group should perform a task. Subjects either chose and publicly justified (in the responsibility condition) or were assigned (in the control condition) one of four possible group production strategies. After the group had ostensibly worked for half the allocated time period, subject leaders were given feedback questioning the success of the initial selection and were allowed to continue or change production methods. Male subjects, but not females, were significantly more likely to persist with the original strategy in the responsibility condition, when compared to subjects in the control condition. In a second experiment, the effect of choice, independent of justification, was assessed (among males). The results showed that choice was not sufficient to produce persistence behaviour, but rather the justification of one's initial decision was necessary. Interestingly, however, this justification did not have to be public. That is, justifying one's initial decision to the self was sufficient. Although self-presentation cannot be ruled out with certainty, the results provide some support for viability of self-justification as a mechanism underlying the escalation of commitment.



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