Episode 11: Status Quo Bias


Hey, here’s a suggestion. Go workout. Right now. Go! Whatever you do, pound iron, run super hard, walk around the block; whatever it is, go get after it for half an hour. Okay bye!

Hey so that was great? Did you do the workout? Right now, did you actually get up and change whatever you were doing and work out?

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you didn’t do that! I’m going to guess you just stuck with the status quo. And that’s status quo bias.

In a paper entitled “Status quo bias in decision making” by Samuelson and Zeckhauser, they do an exhaustive summary of a ton of studies. A metric ton of studies. I shall quote the conclusion from their study of studies:

“In choosing among alternatives individuals display a bias toward sticking with the status quo.”

If you want to call this human laziness, if you want to call this human biology to conserve energy, call it what you will. But humans much prefer the current situation to stay as is. We don’t like when odds, circumstances, prospects, or anything else change.

There’s a theory that dopamine is not just our pleasure chemical, rather it is our seeking chemical, we’ll go seek new adventures and experiences and pleasure with it, rather than the other way around.

What are some ways you can take advantage of this? Assume change is going to be hard. Anyone who has tried to get a department to switch to a new version of software or a different program knows the pain. Assume that someone needs an impetus to take an action. If you want someone to switch from something to something else, give them a point of action or a trigger so they are forced to reevaluate their decision. On the flip side, if you don’t want people to make a change, don’t rock the boat. Don’t give them an opportunity to make a change. Just keep rolling same old same old.

People will still take action if the status quo becomes too much to handle… But when in doubt people will stick with the status quo.

 

Samuelson, W., & Zeckhauser, R. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty1(1), 7-59. doi:10.1007/bf00055564

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