Updated 1 week, 4 days ago

We prefer to stay ignorant

Human beings prefer not to know what’s ahead, especially when there are negative possibilities. At least this is what a new study by Gerd Gigerenzer and Rocio Garcia-Retamero has found. The study published in Psychological Review shows we prefer ignorance over knowledge.

The authors differentiate between ignorance, which is a “state of knowledge in which a person does not know the answer to a question,” and deliberate ignorance, “the willful decision not to know, as opposed to the inability to access information or disinterest in the question.”

But why?  There are four different reasons.

1. To maintain positive emotions of surprise and suspense about personally important events.

Certainty completely destroys the seduction of mystery. Also, knowing what’s ahead would make our motivation drop significantly.

2. To avoid potentially bad news.

For example, through the use of genetic testing people can know if they are susceptible to certain diseases like cancer or diabetes. This may lead to hasty life decisions or encourage people to have a better lifestyle or take preventive measures. However, as the study shows, in spite of the benefits people still prefer not to know.

3. To profit strategically from remaining ignorant.

Claiming you didn’t know about something may later allow you to avoid liability. The authors say willful blindness played an important role in the 2008 financial crisis, for example.

This can also relate to the spiral of silence. The theory proposed by German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumman refers to the tendency of people to remain silent when they feel their views are in opposition to the majority view on a subject. They do because of the fear of isolation and reprisal.

Similarly, the confirmation bias shows this. When decision makers actively chose to assign more weight to evidence that supports their hypothesis and ignore or underweight evidence that should disconfirm it.

Also, when people surround themselves with information that support their views rather than defies them they’re preferring ignorance. For example, choosing which pages and people to follow, we’re actively limiting our sources of information.

4. To increase fairness and impartiality.

Humans have an innate sense of fairness so they prefer to eliminate subjective bias by being deliberately ignorant. For example, in the US evidence about the defendant’s criminal record is often not admissible as a jury should remain ignorant about previous crimes when determining the defendant’s guilt.

The authors concluded deliberate ignorance is a widespread state of mind. People don’t want to know so that they can avoid regret, profit from nowt knowing and maintain the enjoyment of suspense.


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