Escalation theory

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Alternate name(s)


Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)


Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)


Concise description of theory

According to Escalation Theory, individuals with a high degree of responsibility persist to self-justify or convince themselves that their initial decision is correct, even though the objective reality says otherwise, in order to conceal their mistake. Staw and Ross (1987a, p. 54) observes that if the objective facts disconfirm one’s opinion, then the individual will look to find out different reasons to discredit other sources as cause for the disconfirmation. Thus, this escalation behavior stems from the individual’s denial to take responsibility for the failure.

Diagram/schematic of theory


Originating author(s)

Staw, B.M. and Ross, J

Seminal articles

Staw, B.M. and Ross, J. "Behavior in Escalation Situations: Antecedents, Prototypes, and Solutions," in Research in Organizational Behavior (9), B. M. Staw and L. L. Cummings (eds.), JAI Press Inc., Greenwich, CT, 1987a, pp. 39-78.

Brockner, J. "The Escalation of Commitment to a Failing Course of Action: Toward Theoretical Progress," Academy of Management Review (17:1), January 1992, pp. 39-6

Ross, J. and Staw, B.M. (1993), “Organizational escalation and exit: lessons from the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant”, Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 36 No. 4, pp. 701‐32.

Drummond, H. 1998. Is escalation always irrational? Organization Studies, 19: 911-929.

Mähring, M., Holmström, J., Keil, M. and Montealegre, R. (2004), "Trojan actor‐networks and swift translation", Information Technology & People, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 210-238.

Originating area

Organizational Behavior

Level of analysis


IS articles that use the theory

Keil, M., Mixon, R., Saarinen, T., and Tuunainen, V. "Understanding Runaway Information Technology Projects: Results from an International Research Program Based on Escalation Theory," Journal of Management Information Systems (11:3), Winter 1995b, pp. 67-87

Keil, M. (1995). Pulling the Plug: Software Project Management and the Problem of Project Escalation. MIS Quarterly, 19(4), 421-447. doi:10.2307/249627

Keil, M. "Escalation of Commitment in Information Systems Development: A Comparison of Three Theories," Academy of Management Best Papers Proceedings, 55th Annual Meeting, Vancouver, British Columbia, August 4-8, 1995a.

Keil, M. and J. Flatto (1999) "Information Systems Project Escalation: A Reinterpretation Based on Options Theory," Accounting, Management and Information Technologies (9) 2, pp.115-139.

Links from this theory to other theories

External links


Original Contributor(s)

Mukesh Narmetta

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