Psychological inertia (Ofer Abarbanel online library)

Psychological inertia is behavioral continuity (e.g., earlier and later expressions of the same behavior) attributable to a mediating social–cognitive variable—for example, criminal thinking or low self-efficacy for conventional behavior.[1]


Psychological inertia is people’s reluctance to do something in a different way due to an indisposition to change. They are drawn to behaving or acting in a certain way.[2]

Inability to break with tradition

The 1998 article “Psychological Inertia” by James Kowalick[2] refers to a company where the president was displeased that company management had little knowledge of what was going on in the manufacturing department. The management team was not approachable and looked down on employees that were not managers. “Remaining behind the sacred doors of one’s managerial office had become quite a tradition.” To address this issue, the president asked each manager to present a manufacturing procedure in detail at the staff meeting, having the other managers asking, penetrating questions. As a result, in short time, managers were on the production floor learning the procedures. This form of PI represents “cultural and traditional programming”.[2]

An impediment to problem solving

Psychological inertia negatively affects personal creativity and limits the ways that one may approach solving problems. Preconceived thought processes such as, “This is the way that things are done” so “Just do it this way”, or “Tradition dictates that we do it this way”, or “You were given the information, and the information is true”,[2] can lead to failures or stagnant results.

Psychological inertia can also result from the interpretation of words and their assumed meaning. “How is a pipe able to fit through a square hole if the square hole had slightly less cross-sectional area? The answer, pipes by design do not necessarily have to be round. They can be square.”[2]

Applied assumptions of psychological inertia

Prisoner classification during incarceration

Theories surrounding the expectation of behavioral continuity are a topic of debate in the criminal justice community. But the conventional wisdom that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior has generally led to “an expectation that offenders with histories of criminal violence in the community are at increased risk for disruptive conduct in prison [and] has been operationalized as a routine component in prison risk classifications”.[3]


  1. ^Walters, Glenn D.; Espelage, Dorothy L. (2018). “Cognitive insensitivity and cognitive impulsivity as mediators of bullying continuity: Extending the psychological inertia construct to bullying behavior”. School Psychology Quarterly. 33 (4): 527–536. doi:10.1037/spq0000240. PMID 29927276.
  2. ^ Jump up to:ab c d e Kowalick, James (1998). “Psychological Inertia”. The Triz Journal.
  3. ^Reidy, Thomas J.; Sorensen, Jon R.; Cunningham, Mark D. (2012). “Community violence to prison assault: A test of the behavioral continuity hypothesis”. Law and Human Behavior. 36 (4): 356–363. doi:10.1037/h0093934. PMID 22849420.

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Ofer Abarbanel online library

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Ofer Abarbanel online library