In trying to explain the failure that is the Iraq War, we and others have frequently inveighed against the engagement's financial and human costs. Conventional wisdom says detailing the thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars given over to the unwinnable fight might be an effective way make the case for ending it, what with people hating to see wasted lives and money. But a new study says going over those losses may have the exact opposite effect.
In research set to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology soon, psychologists from Washington University and the University of Michigan discovered that providing information about losses of life and money might be ineffective when trying to persuade people to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason? The "sunk-cost effect." That is, people become upset about the fact that we've lost so much in the Middle East and feel that staying the course is the only way to make the heavy investment worthwhile.
"The 'sunk-cost' fallacy is a common type of irrational human behavior," says Scientific American. "For example, if staying home will make you happier than going to a movie, reason dictates that you should stay home. However, when it comes to rational decision-making, humans ... often use irrelevant information to help them decide—such as whether they’ve already spent any resources. Someone who wants to stay home, but who has already purchased a movie ticket, will tend to opt for going to the movie because of the resources already devoted to the event."
In other words, Americans upset that we've blown billions and killed thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan are tempted to believe that fighting the wars until we "win" would make those costs worth it. It's a self-delusion of the highest, most depressing order. But it's also a good indicator of how you might go about crafting a better anti-war appeal the next time you protest.