Have you ever wondered why society hardly ever changes? I think most of us have.
One answer is that humans have a mental bias towards maintaining the status quo. People think like this all the time. They tend to go with what they know rather than a new, unknown option.
People feel safer with the established order in the face of potential change. That’s partly why people buy the same things they bought before, return to the same restaurants and keep espousing the same opinions.
This has been called the ‘system justification bias’ and it has some paradoxical effects (research is described in Jost et al., 2004):
- Poor people don’t strongly support the sorts of political policies that would make them better off. Surveys find that low-income groups are hardly more likely than high-income groups to want tax changes that mean they will get more money. Generally people’s politics doesn’t line up with their position in society.
- Oddly, the more disadvantaged people are, the more they are likely to support a system that is doing them no favours. This is because of cognitive dissonance. In one US example of this low-income Latinos are more likely to trust government officials than high-income Latinos.
- Most disturbing of all: the more unequal the society, the more people try to rationalise the system. For example in countries in which men hold more sexist values, women are more likely to support the system.
People seem to rationalise the inequality in society, e.g. poor people are poor because they don’t work hard enough and rich people are rich because they deserve it.
Incredibly, this means that some (but not all) turkeys will keep on voting for Christmas.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: kris krug
→ This post is part of a series on cognitive biases:
- The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why The Incompetent Don’t Know They’re Incompetent
- The Worse-Than-Average Effect: When You’re Better Than You Think
- Why You’re a Sucker for the Impact Bias
- The Hindsight Bias: I Knew It All Along!
- How to Overcome the Egocentric Bias
- See How Easily You Can Avoid The Memory Bias
- 4 Belief Biases That Can Reduce Pleasure
- Does Delaying Decisions Lead to Better Outcomes?
- The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion
- Why Society Doesn’t Change: The System Justification Bias
- The Availability Bias: Why People Buy Lottery Tickets
- The Illusion of Transparency
- The Illusion of Control: Are There Benefits to Being Self-Deluded?
- The Endowment Effect: Why It’s Easy to Overvalue Your Stuff
- Illusory Correlations: When The Mind Makes Connections That Don’t Exist
- Anchoring Effect: How The Mind is Biased by First Impressions
- The Confirmation Bias: Why It’s Hard to Change Your Mind
- The Well-Travelled Road Effect: Why Familiar Routes Fly By
- How a Psychological Bias Makes Groups Feel Good About Themselves And Discredit Others
- The Sobering Up Effect: Why People Get More Pessimistic As The Moment of Truth Gets Closer