Nav: Home

No spoilers! Most people don't want to know their future

February 22, 2017

WASHINGTON -- Given the chance to see 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, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

"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 the study's lead author, Gerd Gigerenzer, PhD, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. "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."

Two nationally representative studies involving more than 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain found that 85 to 90 percent of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events, and 40 to 70 percent preferred to remain ignorant of upcoming positive events. Only 1 percent of participants consistently wanted to know what the future held. The findings are published in the APA journal Psychological Review.

The researchers also 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. The length of time until an event would occur also played a role: Deliberate ignorance was more likely the nearer the event. For example, older adults were less likely than younger adults 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 didn't, with only 37 percent of participants saying they wouldn't 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. 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," said Gigerenzer . "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."
-end-
Article: "Cassandra's Regret: The Psychology of Not Wanting to Know," by Gerd Gigerenzer, PhD, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and Rocio Garcia-Retamero, PhD, University of Granada, Spain. Psychological Review, March, Vol. 124, No. 2.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at

http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/rev-rev0000055.pdf.

Contact: Gerd Gigerenzer at gigerenzer@mpib-berlin.mpg.de or by phone at +49-30-82406-361.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

http://www.apa.org

If you do not want to receive APA news releases, please let us know at public.affairs@apa.org or 202-336-5700.

American Psychological Association

Related Life Articles:

Your sex life is only as old as you feel
The closer you feel to your actual age, the less likely you are to be satisfied with your sex life, a University of Waterloo study has found.
Interpersonal abuse in early life may lead to concentration issues later in life
Does a history of abuse before the age of 18 affect later capacity to concentrate and stay focused?
Life skills are important for wellbeing in later life
Life skills, such as persistence, conscientiousness and control, are as important to wealth and wellbeing in later life as they are when people are much younger, according to new research led by UCL.
During late life, what's important changes
Supportive late life care improves experience and cost, and model can be replicated.
Life begets life: The diversity of species on Earth is generating itself
If competition is the main evolutionary driver, why can so many species coexist within the same ecosystem instead to have a few that dominate?
New chemistry of life
A team of scientists under the lead of Ivan Dikic, Director of the Institute of Biochemistry II at Goethe University Frankfurt, has now discovered a novel mechanism of ubiquitination, by which Legionella bacteria can seize control over their host cells.
Life before oxygen
UC geologist uncovers 2.5 billion-year-old fossils of bacteria that predate the formation of oxygen.
The fruits of life
In a new international collaboration led by Professors Hong Ma and Jun Xiang, the authors performed a tour de force evolutionary study of Rosaceae fruits from the analyses of 125 flowering plants with large gene sequence datasets, including those of 117 Rosaceae species.
Quality of life in late life can be good
New LifeCourse research shows patients' quality of life can improve in the last months of life; caregivers need to understand how patients' goals change with illness, and health professionals can improve late life communications by understanding the whole person needs of caregivers.
UPCI-tested immunotherapy prolongs life, reduces side effects and improves quality of life
The immunotherapy nivolumab significantly increases survival and causes fewer adverse side-effects in patients with recurrent head and neck cancer, according to a randomized trial co-led by investigators at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, partners with UPMC CancerCenter.

Related Life Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".