“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” – Sydney J. Harris (author/journalist)
Status Quo Bias is the psychological preference for the current state of affairs. A significant majority of people avoid change, and subconsciously tend to go with the flow when given a choice. They often just accept the default, existing solution – the status quo – without seriously considering other options that would require them to change.
This can obviously be a problem for researchers using surveys to uncover insights that could help change an organization’s direction.
To compound the issue faced by market researchers in overcoming a respondent’s subconscious urge to stay the same, there are also other cognitive biases that reaffirm their chosen status quo:
- Choice paralysis: The tendency to become overwhelmed with too many choices usually ends in a respondent selecting the status quo or a ‘don’t know’-style answer.
- Loss Aversion: The potential losses faced when making a change are subconsciously weighed more heavily than the potential gains. This ‘scariness of change’ element often leads to an unbalanced decision.
So how can market researchers address or hope to minimize the biases that cause respondents to avoid change?
Step One: Encourage respondent self-awareness
These biases are subconscious, so let’s try to make them conscious. Experts believe that bias awareness is a crucial step towards behavioural changes. It’s certainly very difficult for most people to understand their own behaviour and change it to be less biased. But this self-awareness is still a crucial step in the process of improving response quality.
Don’t be shy about putting a little note above questions that tend to be affected by status quo bias (eg. open ended questions). If you’re looking to address it more indirectly, phrase your questions in a way that encourages creativity and helps them subconsciously acknowledge that they have a status quo they need to push beyond.
Step 2: Ensure respondent focus
As you can probably tell from the definition, status quo bias is generally a result of lazy decision-making – picking the first or easiest option. The more tired, time pressed, stressed or disinterested a respondent is, the more likely he or she is to choose the status quo, rather than thinking more creatively.
So relax your respondents, ensure they’re having fun with the survey and that they’re feeling listened-to. If they’re not bored or overwhelmed, and they’re feeling relaxed, they’re more likely to take the extra moment to develop a more creative response.
Protip: Remember choice paralysis. It plays a big role in wavering respondent focus. Keep the number of answer choices (and questions!) to a minimum!
Step 3: Challenge respondents
Imagine respondents can’t choose the status quo. What might they do instead? This forces a little creativity in responses.
Our survey software lets you use questionnaire logic to address this. Try applying negative ‘remove-if’ logic to their status quo response. Plan a question early in your survey that aims to identify their current situation. Then using a simple logic equation, remove that response from the questions in the back end of the survey where you’re presenting them with more ‘what if’ type scenarios. Respondents who can’t choose the status quo, won’t choose the status quo.
(Not in love with scripting survey logic? Don’t worry – our professional services team are!)
Remember: People do want to change!
The quote that opened this blogpost is a fitting one. It’s important to note that people do want to change for the better, it’s just human nature to shy away from actively changing anything significant.
Use the three steps above to give your respondents the little push they need to move beyond their status quo. They might even embrace the change!