Status Quo Bias and Why We Fight Change

Status Quo Bias and Why We Fight Change - Fallacy in Logic

If you had to describe in one word what change feels like to you, what would it be? For most people, it would probably be “scary.”

Even though it happens around us all the time, we naturally tend to fear and shun change. In psychology, there is a name for this: the status quo bias. As a cognitive bias, it affects practically all of us although its effect varies depending on the individual; some of us find adapting to changes almost effortless, while others have serious difficulties coping with them.

In this article, we’ll explain why this bias happens, why it’s bad, and what you can do to avoid it.

What Is the Status Quo Bias?

Status quo bias describes people’s tendency to avoid change and keep things as they are — that is, maintain the status quo.

We are resistant to changes — even the much-needed and well-thought-out ones — and when changes do happen, we tend to see them negatively and associate them with loss and regression. This naturally affects how we make decisions.


It was initially introduced in 1988 in a paper by Richard Zeckhauser and William Samuelson. Based on the experiments, they concluded that people favor options that maintain the status quo when making decisions; people find comfort and security with familiarity and lean towards maintaining things the way they are, rather than embracing possible changes.


We may unconsciously be influenced by the status quo bias in a wide variety of situations. For example, consider the following cases:

Trying New Things

Your favorite cafe has an amazing chicken pesto sandwich, and almost every day during your lunch break, you go and have that sandwich.

Every once in a while, the cafe offers new delicious-looking options on the lunch menu. You like the idea of trying something new, so you think: “I’ll try that one next time.” However, you never end up doing it; when it comes down to it, trying the latest dish in exchange for the tried-and-tested favorite doesn’t just seem worth it.

The outcome? You reduce the risk of disappointment, but you also miss the opportunity of adding something new to your list of favorites.

Brand Loyalty

Remaining loyal to, say, your internet service provider despite having better deals from another company could be another example.

A competitor of your current ISP might offer you a cheaper plan with more bandwidth. Still, since you are already familiar with the existing one’s technicalities, customer support, as well as rates, you say no to a more desirable option. 

Medical Treatment

With technology playing a more prominent role in the field of medicine and quality of care, things are progressing rapidly. As such, this may bring about situations where the status quo bias has a grip on people; when faced with the choice, people may prefer to keep and continue with their current treatment despite having newer and better approaches available.

The advantage here is that you don’t risk changing something that’s already working, and the downside is that you reject a possibly better option. The caveat, however, is that you make the decision due to being biased to keep things the same, rather than weighing the risks and rewards and choosing accordingly.

Why It Happens

What causes the status quo bias? Does it simply develop over time and make us adapt to our current comfort zone? Here are some of the reasons behind it:


Firstly, mere exposure and experience make us lean towards it as the preferred choice, simply because of familiarity. We often choose to stick to our ways because we know what to expect, see, feel, taste, hear, and even smell.

Furthermore, some of the things that become “favorites” are listed as such due to awareness of them; we know for sure what we will get out of the experience. 

Disappointment and Negativity

Another major reason is our aversion to negative emotions; we want to avoid getting disappointed, dissatisfied, and unhappy. Seeing these emotions as the possible result is naturally a strong motivator to lean towards the more conservative choices.

As such, another cognitive bias — introduced by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s — is in play here: loss aversion. It refers to our tendency to put more weight on losses than on gains.

Influence and Upbringing 

Sometimes, this tendency can be a learned behavior influenced by the people around you. If you grew up in an environment where change is frowned upon and triggers negativity, you are likely to carry this around into adulthood. 

Why It’s Bad

The main negative consequence of the status quo bias is clear: missing the benefits that would outweigh the risks. But, is it always bad? Not necessarily.

Maintaining the existing state of things provides certainty and predictability, not to mention that the tried-and-true methods are indeed oftentimes better than the newer ones. Also, when considering the reality that individuals live in different situations and deal with changes differently, it can be unreasonable to criticize someone’s unwillingness to change.

However, whenever the fear of change is so strong that decisions are made solely based on it, and the possibility of adopting a beneficial change is thus out of the question, it easily becomes harmful.

How to Avoid It

When it comes to curbing the bias, the first and most important step is to be aware of it and how it can sway your judgment. This alone can help you look past it and evaluate the situation on a deeper level.

You can read about combatting biases more generally here.

As with all decision-making, when we are faced with decisions that include changing something, we should ideally include the concrete, objective reasons — or the lack of them — in our decision-making process. This kind of approach can drastically improve the results we get, as opposed to decision-making that is driven by fear and bias.

Also, keep in mind that by adhering to the established ways and staying in comfort zones, you risk missing any new opportunities, both small and great.

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