Most people would not want to know about future events, even if they are good.

By Seriously Science | March 2, 2017 2:08 pm
Photo: flickr/Will

Photo: flickr/Will

If you could see the future, would you really want to?That was the topic of this study, which surveyed over 1000 people to find out their feelings about knowing the outcome of future events. Turns out that 85%-90% of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events (such as death and divorce), and 40% to 70% prefer to remain ignorant of positive events (such as the sex of an unborn child). The researchers propose that risk averse people are more likely to want to remain ignorant of the future, in part so they can avoid the emotional effects of “anticipatory regret.” Would you want to know your fate before it happens? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Cassandra’s regret: The psychology of not wanting to know.

“Ignorance is generally pictured as an unwanted state of mind, and the act of willful ignorance may raise eyebrows. Yet people do not always want to know, demonstrating a lack of curiosity at odds with theories postulating a general need for certainty, ambiguity aversion, or the Bayesian principle of total evidence. We propose a regret theory of deliberate ignorance that covers both negative feelings that may arise from foreknowledge of negative events, such as death and divorce, and positive feelings of surprise and suspense that may arise from foreknowledge of positive events, such as knowing the sex of an unborn child. We conduct the first representative nationwide studies to estimate the prevalence and predictability of deliberate ignorance for a sample of 10 events. Its prevalence is high: Between 85% and 90% of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events, and 40% to 70% prefer to remain ignorant of positive events. Only 1% of participants consistently wanted to know. We also deduce and test several predictions from the regret theory: Individuals who prefer to remain ignorant are more risk averse and more frequently buy life and legal insurance. The theory also implies the time-to-event hypothesis, which states that for the regret-prone, deliberate ignorance is more likely the nearer the event approaches. We cross-validate these findings using 2 representative national quota samples in 2 European countries. In sum, we show that deliberate ignorance exists, is related to risk aversion, and can be explained as avoiding anticipatory regret.”

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  • Bobareeno

    Imagine the wealth that would come to the persons who knew the outcome of sporting events.

    • OWilson

      Or even the weather 2 weeks out! :)

  • J Smith

    More and more junk science. Looking at the full paper he question on whether the subject has life insurance is telling of the researcher’s (willful or no?) ignorance. Life insurance purchase is know to be powerfully affected by known variables: a) employer subsidy b) minor children. I know: I am an actuary.

    And personal risk aversion can be highly rational (not smoking, owning a fire extinguisher) or highly irrational (not leaving the house).

    As far as legal insurance, that is way to general a basket the way the study uses it. Legal insurance purchases by individuals are also multivariable, and need to be tested against asset (vs income) and legal risk of business sector: are you a cop, doctor, attorney, news writer, real estate agent, uber driver or in any sector with much higher rates of civil suit, or are you in a sector where you don’t have access to LLC protection. A retired person who has assets and has taken up Uber driving is highly rational in obtaining what the researchers call legal insurance (the data set looks to be liability ins.) whereas a younger person with high income and low assets has a lower rational/risk.

    I think this study shows more about how these scientists are ignorant of the context, and makes me wonder of they are willfully ignorant like the authors of most studies of this type. It recalls injury studies concerning firearms that ignore the core variable (prior criminal activity or not of the owner), claims that combat veterans have are higher suicide risk (your insurance company knows they do not) and an increasing mass of studies that seem to be expert, but where very significant sets of highly relevant variables are ignored.



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