The Status Quo Effect (Or, Pay Without Play)
Excerpt (via Psychology of Video Games)
These groups were actual subjects in a 2001 study by Brigitte Madrian and Dennis Shea, two economists interested in what happened when a tiny but important change was made to the paperwork related to the 401(k) plan.1 The only difference between the groups was that the paperwork for Group A required new hires to actively sign up for the savings plan, while the paperwork for Group B automatically enrolled new hires into the savings plan unless they overrode that decision. In other words, people tended to go with the default choice –”Don’t Participate” for Group A and “Participate” for Group B– and the suckers in Group A saved less because they couldn’t be bothered to check one box on one form.2
Psychologists have a term for this reluctance to change from our previous or default decisions: “the status quo effect.”3 Most television programmers use it to glide you from one show to the next, using an established hit with a strong viewership to build an audience for whatever comes after it. It’s even gotten to the point where you move seamlessly from the end of one show to a quick intro to the next without even pausing for a commercial break. Because once they start, most people will continue to watch even though switching to something else is trivially easy.
This is, of course, the same reason why gaming companies prefer that you sign up for an automatically renewing service instead of using prepaid subscription or point cards. It’s also the reason that rental services like Netflix or GameFly offer “Free Trials” that will roll into paid subscriptions if you don’t actively cancel. They even spin it as a benefit: “If you are enjoying Netflix, do nothing and your membership will automatically continue…”