It sometimes seems we are all obsessed by progress. Every country, group or individual wants to be leading instead of falling behind in getting better, higher, stronger and bigger. But we humans actually are destined to like the status quo. Just the mere existence of something, makes us think it is good.
The ‘existence bias’ or ‘status quo’ bias was first described by David Hume, 200 years ago. But only in 2009 researchers Scott Eidelman and Christian Crandall systemetically investigated this conservative human tendency. In various experiments students proved to prefer the status quo when evaluating scenario’s like a company moving location and a university changing credit requirements, or just when judging something aesthetically. Eidelman and Crandall conclude that ‘the status quo is seen as good, right, attractive, tasty, and desirable.’
Why? The researchers mention forces that could be at work here, like loss aversion, regret avoidance and repeated exposure. We are naturally afraid of losing things we have and avoid making bad decisions. And - here follow the basics of commercials – we tend to prefer things we’ve seen before. But, according to Eidelman and Crandall, there is also just the simple asumption that something existing is good, which can form barriers to cognitive and social change.
Now another researcher, Stuart McKelvie, replicated Eidelman and Crandall’s experiments and found similar results. But science isn’t yet finished with investigating the ‘existence bias’, he writes. McKelvie suggests further research on what kind of personalities are more prone to the bias and proposes to investigate whether a longer duration of the status quo increases the bias.
Photo: Flickr, hmcotterill
Stuart J. McKelvie (2013). The existence bias: a systematic replication. Comprehensive Psychology: Volume 2.
Eidelman, S., Crandall, C. S., & Pattershall, J. (2009). The existence bias Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0017058
Scott Eidelman1,†,, & Christian S. Crandall (2012). Bias in Favor of the Status Quo Social and Personality Psychology Compass DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2012.00427.x
existence bias, biases in psychology