Ignorance Is Bliss When It Comes to Challenging Social Issues

Read the full story from the American Psychological Association.

The less people know about important complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption, and the environment, the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

And the more urgent the issue, the more people want to remain unaware, according to a paper published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Full citation for the article: Shepherd, S., & Kay, A. C. (2011, November 7). “On the Perpetuation of Ignorance: System Dependence, System Justification, and the Motivated Avoidance of Sociopolitical Information.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026272. Available online from the APA at http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-ofp-shepherd.pdf.

Abstract: How do people cope when they feel uniformed or unable to understand important social issues, such as the environment, energy concerns, or the economy? Do they seek out information, or do they simply ignore the threatening issue at hand? One would intuitively expect that a lack of knowledge would motivate an increased, unbiased search for information, thereby facilitating participation and engagement in these issues—especially when they are consequential, pressing, and self-relevant. However, there appears to be a discrepancy between the importance/self-relevance of social issues and people’s willingness to engage with and learn about them. Leveraging the literature on system justification theory (Jost & Banaji, 1994), the authors hypothesized that, rather than motivating an increased search for information, a lack of knowledge about a specific sociopolitical issue will (a) foster feelings of dependence on the government, which will (b) increase system justification and government trust, which will (c) increase desires to avoid learning about the relevant issue when information is negative or when information valence is unknown. In other words, the authors suggest that ignorance — as a function of the system justifying tendencies it may activate — may, ironically, breed more ignorance. In the contexts of energy, environmental, and economic issues, the authors present 5 studies that (a) provide evidence for this specific psychological chain (i.e., ignorance about an issue 3 dependence 3 government trust 3 avoidance of information about that issue); (b) shed light on the role of threat and motivation in driving the second and third links in this chain; and (c) illustrate the unfortunate consequences of this process for individual action in those contexts that may need it most.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.