In the plethora of challenges associated with managing Information Systems (IS), deciding when to persist or withdraw from a distressed IS project is of utmost importance. Distressed IS projects are particularly prone to Escalation of Commitment (EoC) - the tendency to persist with failing courses of action. To better understand how the cognitive “black box” behind this tendency unfolds, we uncovered 13 cognitive reasoning patterns and a cognitive process model based on 270 text-based reflections of 56 participants during a sequential decision-making simulation. Cognition differs between the four escalation phases regarding the temporal focus (retrospective, introspective, prospective), the underlying mechanism (starting momentum, path dependency, denial, perceived completion proximity), and the combination of cognitive reasoning patterns. The cognitive process model of EoC helps detangle the complexities of managing IS. Our findings also support IS managers in identifying signs of escalation and selecting the appropriate actions to turn distressed projects around.

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Track 10: IT Strategy, Governance & Management