When it comes to the future, ignorance really may be bliss. Psychologists asked people whether they wanted to know what their future held, and as it turns out, most of us prefer to be kept in the dark.
Scientists surveyed nationally representative samples of people in Spain and Germany. They asked, for example, whether people wanted to know what they were getting for Christmas, whether their marriage would end in divorce, when they would die, and whether there is life after death. The results, published yesterday in Psychological Review, show that almost nobody wants to know about the bad things that are coming up. This makes sense. But more surprising is that about 40 to 70 percent of people don’t want to know the good things either. In fact, only 1 percent of people always wanted to know what was in store.
Why is this? The researchers did some personality measures of the people they surveyed, and found that those who want to remain ignorant tend to be more afraid of risk. Another finding: the closer you are to the event, the more likely you are to choose not to know. It’s not surprising that young people might be more curious about their cause of death than those who are much older.
Other studies of decision-making have shown that one thing that makes people afraid of risk is anticipated regret — basically, thinking that you’re going to regret the choice, whatever choice you make. So it’s possible that people don’t want to know because they suspect they’d just feel bad no matter what.
As always, there are limitations to the results. As the scientists themselves note, it’s possible that people answer this way because it’s all hypothetical. If the technology actually existed, maybe they would act differently if given the choice.
So despite what the popularity of palm readers and fortune-tellers and tarot suggest, when it comes to our own lives, most of us would probably rather avoid the spoilers.