Choosing not to learn consequences allows people to act selfishly while maintaining positive self-image, research suggests.
When given the choice to learn how their actions will affect someone else, 40% of people will choose ignorance, often in order to have an excuse to act selfishly, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
“Examples of such willful ignorance abound in everyday life, such as when consumers ignore information about the problematic origins of the products they buy,” said lead author Linh Vu, MS, a doctoral candidate at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “We wanted to know just how prevalent and how harmful willful ignorance is, as well as why people engage in it.”
The research was published on October 19 in the journal Psychological Bulletin.
Methodology and Key Findings
Vu and her colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 22 research studies with a total of 6,531 participants. The studies were all conducted in research labs or online, and most followed a protocol in which some participants were told the consequences of their actions, while others could choose whether to learn the consequences or not.
In one example, participants had to decide between receiving a smaller reward ($5) or a larger reward ($6). If they chose $5, then an anonymous peer (or charity) would also receive $5. If they chose the larger $6 reward, however, the other recipient would receive only $1. One set of participants were offered the option to learn the consequences of their choice, while another group was automatically told the consequences.
Across the studies, the researchers found that when given an option, 40% of people chose not to learn the consequences of their actions. That willful ignorance was correlated with less altruism: People were 15.6 percentage points more likely to be generous to someone else when they were told the consequences of their choice compared with when they were allowed to remain ignorant.