Patient inertia and the status quo bias: when an inferior option is preferred

Psychol Sci. 2013 Sep;24(9):1763-9. doi: 10.1177/0956797613479976. Epub 2013 Jul 19.


Medical noncompliance is a major public-health problem. One potential source of this noncompliance is patient inertia. It has been hypothesized that one cause of patient inertia might be the status quo bias-which is the tendency to select the default choice among a set of options. To test this hypothesis, we created a laboratory analogue of the decision context that frequently occurs in situations involving patient inertia, and we examined whether participants would stay with a default option even when it was clearly inferior to other available options. Specifically, in Studies 1 and 2, participants were given the option to reduce their anxiety while waiting for an electric shock. When doing nothing was the status quo option, participants frequently did not select the option that would reduce their anxiety. In Study 3, we demonstrated a simple way to overcome status quo bias in a context relevant to patient inertia.

Keywords: choice; decision making; emotions; health; patient inertia; status quo bias.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Bias
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance / psychology*
  • Students / psychology