The status quo bias is a cognitive bias that leads people to prefer that things remain the same, or that they change as little as possible, if they absolutely must be altered. This cognitive bias plays a role in a number of fields, including economics, political science, sociology, and psychology, and many studies have been conducted on it to look at ways in which it influences human behavior. By being aware of the role that the status quo bias plays in their own lives, people can take steps to reduce the influence of this bias on their decision making.
Several other cognitive biases play into this bias, including the concept of loss aversion. Most people prioritize avoiding the potential for loss over pursuing the potential for gain. In other words, as a general rule, people are conservative because they do not want to lose the gains they have made. As a result, they may view attempts to get ahead as potentially risky. In several studies, when presented with basically identical situations, subjects tend to choose the decision that is least likely to cause a loss.
This bias obviously plays a very important role in decision making, because people will usually make the choice that is least likely to cause a change. The status quo bias can also play a role in daily routines; many people eat the same thing for breakfast day after day, for example, or walk to work in exactly the same pattern, without variation. The inability to be flexible can cause people to become stressed or upset when a situation forces them to make a choice, and it may close their eyes to potential opportunities.
In economics, the status quo bias explains why many people make very conservative financial choices, such as keeping their deposits at one bank even when they are offered a better rate of interest by a bank that is essentially identical in all other respects. The strong desire to keep things the same can cause people to lose out by making conservative decisions. It can also play a role in the world of marketing, as companies have learned to their chagrin when they radically redesign packaging or ingredients of popular products.
While this bias can provide a certain amount of self-protection by encouraging people to make safer choices, it can also become crippling, by preventing someone from selecting a more adventurous option. Like other cognitive biases, it can be so subtle that people aren't aware of it, making it hard to break out of set patterns.