How Status Quo Bias Affects Minorities

status quo bias with minorities

via All Black But Gold by Andre Larcev

“How it’s always been done” is the prevailing excuse for continuing any action regardless of how destructive it is.

The status quo is a powerful influencer. It affects all parties involved: those deciding, those empowered by the status quo (i.e. majority), and those disadvantaged by the status quo (i.e. minority).

The effect being over-comfortable with status quo has on our decision making is evident and extensively documented. Every discipline from economics to psychology has covered it.

Status Quo Bias combines fear of loss, and fear of the unknown into a lethal deterrent. It holds us back from rationally comparing our choices when faced with change. It holds us back from seeing the benefits of change for fear of losing whatever advantage or security we’re currently enjoying.

It’s the age old fear that, “yes, this change might be great, but I can’t know it’ll 100% work, so I won’t take the chance.”

In moments of change, we tend to opt for the devil we already know. It’s why reform efforts are so laborious. The status quo fights for its survival.

“…Individuals have a strong tendency to remain at the status quo, because the disadvantages of leaving it loom larger than advantages.” – The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias, by Daniel Kahneman, Jack L. Knetsch and Richard H. Thaler.

The Status Quo Bias also highlights the interactions between minorities and majorities. Specifically, how the majority dehumanizes the minority. In Defending the Status Quo: Power and Bias in Social Conflict, Dacher Keltner and Robert J. Robinson explain this phenomenon…

“We have argued that power reduces the motivation to carefully attend to others, in part because individuals with power are less outcome dependent on others.[…] Low-power individuals are more motivated, careful judges of social behavior, particularly the behavior of high-power individuals. This suggests that powerful individuals, who are vigilant in their social attention and judgment, will demonstrate less bias.” [emphasis added]

“Powerful individuals,” as described by Keltner and Robinson as being in the “larger faction,” are more likely to stereotype, discriminate against smaller factions in some capacity, and twist the beliefs of smaller factions.

The status quo perverts those who benefit from it. All you have to do is bring up race relations around middle class whites to see this in action.

“My black neighbors and friends are doing great. What do you mean we have racial strife? That’s just the result of activists!”

Statements like those ring out whenever the subject is broached.

Another aspect of middle class white status quo bias is the lack of empathy toward outsiders. Keltner and Robinson mention that…

“…powerful individuals who felt only moderate emotion vis-à-vis a conflict were biased in their judgments of their opposition and conflict, whereas highly emotional partisans were quite accurate in their judgments, consistent with accounts linking emotion to motivated judgment.” [emphasis added]

Simply put: moderate to low emotional people embedded in the status quo have a hard time being unbiased.

Sound familiar?

Middle class whites, disconnected from black communities, benefit from the system (i.e. status quo) that they created. They see little to no of what blacks go through at the hands of the police and criminal justice system. They don’t experience the pain, injustice, and emotion that many blacks go through. And what they do see, they explain away as “the fault of solitary agitators,” or “disconnected instances of abuse not representative of the broader system.”

In their paper, Keltner and Robinson describe how beneficiaries of the status quo will label reformers and agents of change “extremists.”

Agents of change are less likely to exaggerate the differences between both groups.

The majority tends to over-exaggerate the “extremity of revisionists’ attitudes.”

Status quo bias, usually effecting the areas of choice and loss aversion, has influence beyond basic economic applications.

Not even “colorblind” white people are above its influence.

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About John-Pierre Maeli

Keeping it simple and crystal clear, because anything else is useless. I'm here to not only inform you, but to also connect with you. That's what The Political Informer is all about. Feel free to follow me on either Twitter or Google+ Let's talk!

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