Logic tells us that if the information is useful, we should pay attention to it, take note of it and act accordingly. It is irrational to bury one's head in the sand for not wanting to see information that can benefit us or give us some useful clue for the future. But we do it often. We refuse to see reality.
Researchers at Northwestern University asked more than 2.300 people if they wanted to know about different types of information that could be useful to them in three areas: health, finances and interpersonal relationships.
32% of the time people decided they didn't want to know the information. Psychologists concluded that in some cases we actively avoid information that can help or be useful in improving our future. Why?
Choosing not to know
Ignore is an active verb. It implies deciding in a more or less conscious way of not wanting to know, deepen, seek or understand more. There are two main reasons why we set the mechanism of motivated ignorance in motion: the lack of perceived control and the hedonic cost.
Our tendency to avoid potentially useful or beneficial information increases as our sense of "perceived control" decreases. In other words, when we believe there is nothing we can do to avoid the situation, we prefer to ignore some information, such as the likelihood of suffering from a serious genetic disease.
However, we can always do something, so that, at least in theory, all information is useful, if we know how to use it wisely. While we can't always change the results, we can change the path. We may not be able to stop the course of a serious illness, but we could improve the quality of life during that time with proper treatment.
Another reason we embrace ignorance is the hedonic cost. When we believe that information will affect our subjective well-being in the short term, making us enjoy the present less, we will tend to ignore it, even if it will cost more in the future.
Finding out that we are paid less than other colleagues, for example, may make us enjoy work less, so we may prefer not to know. But again, it all depends on how we use that information, as we could take advantage of it to get a raise or it could represent the push we need to look for a different job in which to feel more satisfied and fulfilled.
How can we escape this prejudice?
Obviously, not all of us react in the same way to information that is difficult to manage or with potentially destabilizing. It has been found that people who accept risks better and those who are highly focused on the future are more likely to pay attention to useful information, whether it is negative or positive. So are those who show a more curious attitude towards life and people who are more receptive to opposing points of view.
This means that we can avoid the tendency to ignore what we don't like, even if it's valuable and useful information.
The first step is to recognize that willful ignorance is everywhere, including in ourselves. For example, when the researchers asked participants if they wanted to know how much time they spent lounging at work, using social media, or chatting in front of the coffee machine, two in five didn't want to know. Furthermore, one in five did not want to know how their colleagues assessed their strengths and weaknesses.
The second step is to be aware that it all depends on how we use that information. Living with our backs to reality, having a limited knowledge of the environment, will make us make partisan decisions that will lead us to have maladaptive behaviors.
Closing your eyes will not make problems or adversities disappear, on the contrary, it is likely that these will continue to grow and end up hitting us harder.
Instead, we need to realize that information is freedom, even if at first it can be difficult to adapt it to our mindset or to the trajectory of our life.