Given a chance to peek into the future, most people would rather not know what life has in store for them, even if they think those events could make them happy, a new study has found.
Two studies involving more than 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain found that 85 to 90 per cent of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events, and 40 to 70 per cent preferred to remain ignorant of upcoming positive events.
Only one per cent of participants consistently wanted to know what the future held.
“In Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter of the king of Troy, had the power to foresee the future. But, she was also cursed and no one believed her prophecies,” said Gerd Gigerenzer, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany.
In our study, we’ve found that people would rather decline the powers that made Cassandra famous, in an effort to forgo the suffering that knowing the future may cause, avoid regret and also maintain the enjoyment of suspense that pleasurable events provide,” said Gigerenzer.
The researchers found that people who prefer not to know the future are more risk averse and more frequently buy life and legal insurance than those who want to know the future.
This suggests that those who choose to be ignorant anticipate regret, Gigerenzer said.
Deliberate ignorance was more likely the nearer the event. For example, older adults were less likely than younger ones to want to know when they or their partner would die, and the cause of death.
Participants were asked about a large range of potential events, both positive and negative.
For example, they were asked if they wanted to know who won a soccer game they had planned to watch later, what they were getting for Christmas, whether there is life after death and if their marriage would eventually end in divorce.
Finding out the sex of their unborn child was the only item in the survey where more people wanted to know than did not, with only 37 per cent of participants saying they would not want to know.
Although people living in Germany and Spain vary in age, education and other important aspects, the pattern of deliberate ignorance was highly consistent across the two countries, according to the article, including its prevalence and predictability.
“Wanting to know appears to be the natural condition of humankind, and in no need of justification,” said Gigerenzer.
“People are not just invited but also often expected to participate in early detection for cancer screening or in regular health check-ups, to subject their unborn babies to dozens of prenatal genetic tests, or to use self-tracking health devices,” he said.
“Not wanting to know appears counterintuitive and may raise eyebrows, but deliberate ignorance, as we’ve shown here, doesn’t just exist; it is a widespread state of mind,” he said.
The findings are published in the journal Psychological Review.