summary: New research reveals that when faced with a choice, 40% of individuals choose to remain ignorant about how their decisions affect others, often exploiting this unawareness to act more selfishly.
Researchers equate this behavior with consumers turning a blind eye to the problematic origins of the products they buy. In the studies analysed, there was evidence to suggest that when participants were made aware of the consequences of their actions, there was a 15.6% increase in altruistic behaviour.
This suggests that while many may act out of a desire to maintain a positive self-perception, much perceived altruism can be rooted in societal pressures and self-views rather than genuine respect for the well-being of others.
- When given the opportunity, 40% chose not to know the consequences of their decisions.
- Willful ignorance led to a 15.6 percentage point decrease in altruistic behavior.
- People who were informed of the consequences of their actions were 7% more likely to act generously than those who were informed hypothetically, indicating true altruism.
When given the option of knowing 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 this 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 understand how widespread and harmful ignorance is, as well as why people engage in it.”
The research was published in the journal Psychological bulletin.
Fu and her colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 22 research studies with a total of 6,531 participants. All studies were conducted in research laboratories or online, and most followed a protocol in which some participants were told the consequences of their actions, while others could choose whether or not to learn the consequences.
In one example, participants had to choose between receiving a smaller reward ($5) or a larger reward ($6). If they choose $5, the anonymous peer (or charity) will also receive $5. However, if they choose the larger reward of $6, the other recipient will only receive $1. One group of participants was offered the option of knowing the consequences of their choice, while another group was automatically told the consequences.
Across studies, researchers found that when given a choice, 40% of people chose not to know the consequences of their actions. This willful ignorance was associated with less altruism: People were 15.6 percentage points more likely to be generous to another person when they were told the consequences of their choice compared to when they were allowed to remain ignorant.
The researchers hypothesized that one reason for willful ignorance may be that some people act altruistically because they want to maintain a positive self-image for being an altruistic person. In those cases, willful ignorance can allow them to maintain that self-image without having to act altruistically.
A meta-analysis supports this, according to study co-author Shaul Shalvi, Ph.D., professor of behavioral ethics at the University of Amsterdam. This is because people who chose to know the consequences of their actions were 7 percentage points more generous than participants who received the information by default. This suggests that truly influential people choose to know the consequences of their actions.
“The results are fascinating because they suggest that much of the altruistic behavior we observe is driven by the desire to behave as others expect us to do,” Shalvi said.
“While most people are willing to do the right thing when they are fully aware of the consequences of their actions, this willingness is not always because people care about others.
“Part of the reason people act altruistically is due to social pressures as well as their desire to see themselves in a good light. Since being good is often expensive, requiring people to give up their time, money and effort, ignorance provides an easy way out.”
All studies included in this meta-analysis were conducted in laboratories in the United States or Western Europe, or on online platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk. Future research should aim to examine willful ignorance in more diverse settings, according to the researchers, and investigate ways to combat this behavior.
About this psychology research news
author: James Sliwa
communication: James Sliwa – APA
picture: Image credited to Neuroscience News
Original search: Open access.
“Ignorance by choice: A meta-analytic review of the underlying motivations and consequences of willful ignorance“By Shaul Shalvi et al. Psychological bulletin
Ignorance by choice: A meta-analytic review of the underlying motivations and consequences of willful ignorance
People sometimes avoid information about the impact of their actions as an excuse for selfishness. Such “willful ignorance” reduces altruistic behavior and has deleterious effects in many consumer and organizational contexts.
We report the first meta-analysis on willful ignorance, testing the strength of its effect on altruistic behavior and examining its underlying drivers. We analyzed 33,603 decisions made by 6,531 participants across 56 different treatment influences, all using variations of an experimental paradigm that assesses intentional ignorance.
The results of the meta-analysis reveal that 40% of participants avoid easily obtainable information about the consequences of their actions for others, resulting in a 15.6 percentage point decrease in altruistic behavior compared to when the information was provided.
We discuss the motivations behind willful ignorance and present evidence consistent with excuse-seeking behaviors to maintain a positive self-image.
We investigate moderators of willful ignorance and address the theoretical, methodological, and practical implications of our findings about who engages in willful ignorance, as well as when and why.
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