Often, when making difficult decisions, we choose what is familiar and reject novelty. We favor the status quo because it is “within our comfort zone.” This is a natural human tendency. However, new research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates that effective decision makers need to beware of the potential pitfalls of “status quo bias.”
The research construct was simple. Participants watched a video monitor displaying a tennis match. On cue, they were asked to decide whether a tennis ball was “in” or “out.” In each case, there was a default option, either “in” or “out.” So, when making a judgment, participants could select the default option or choose to over rule it. Results demonstrated that there was clear bias toward the status quo (i.e., the default option) and that this bias resulted in errors in judgment. “This bias toward default acceptance was seen in 13 of 16 subjects and importantly resulted in suboptimal choice behavior.”
The study authors observe that when “faced with a complex decision, people tend to accept the status quo, as reflected in the old adage, ‘When in doubt, do nothing.’ Indeed, across a range of everyday decisions, such as whether to move house or trade in a car…there is a considerable tendency to maintain the status quo and refrain from acting.”
Effective decision-making requires that we be aware of status quo bias, the “suboptimal acceptance of a default choice option.” To avoid this bias and to ensure optimal decision-making, an effective problem solver will diverge to generate all possible options and then converge with a clear set of criteria to select the best from among them. For simple strategies to do so, see these additional blog posts: Solution Webs and The Matrix.