The psychology behind why people fear change

Assumption College Undergraduate

January marks the annual celebration of one of the greatest revolutionaries and leaders of change in the world — a man who, through his courageous actions and dreams of a future filled with hope, equality and opportunity, changed the history of this nation forever in the civil rights movement — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Assumption students have numerous opportunities to participate in events that honor of Dr. King. The Massachusetts Service Alliance and partnering organizations, have created service projects across the state, many within driving distance of Worcester.

Dr. King faced relentless opposition in his fight for civil rights and changing seemingly concrete stereotype perceptions held in those days, a concept bachelor’s in psychology students can learn more about in Assumption’s PSY 310: Stereotypes and Prejudice.

In this course, students discover the history of where stereotypes, discrimination and prejudices originated as well as the theories and methodologies behind these beliefs. Students will also learn the psychological process involved in forming prejudice towards certain social groups, and ways to change group stereotypes and reduce these prejudices.

Whether change is discussed in terms of reshaping perceptions or defeating stereotypes, it often receives hesitancy or resistance.

So where does this resistance come from? Why is this hesitancy formed?

Perhaps one reason: people have an innate, psychological fear of change.

Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article shared several reasons why people resist change, all of them rooted in fear.

One explanation psychologists have found for this fear of change is that people genuinely believe, often on a subconscious level, that the longer something has been in place, the better or more established it must be.

Longevity oftentimes breeds comfort.

This is seen in one study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found students preferred course requirements that had been around for a longer period of time as opposed to new course requirements, regardless of whether the “new version” meant more work or less.

Another part of the study found participants to favor the art of acupuncture more when they were told it had been around for 2,000 years as opposed to 250 years.

So what happens when a few courageous leaders break through that fear and seek a change they know is needed? In our next psychology blog we will talk about what it means to not only fight the fear of change, but to become a change leader.

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