Crystal Ball

Ignorance gets a bad rap, but a new study has found that most of us are firmly in the “ignorance is bliss” camp when it comes to wanting to know what the future holds.

In the study, published in Psychological Review, researchers surveyed people about whether they’d want to know as much as possible about the future given the opportunity to peer into a crystal ball, or whether they’d rather stay willfully ignorant. The researchers asked people whether they’d want to know about both negative future events, like impending death or divorce, and positive future events, like learning the sex of an unborn baby.

It turned out that people were quite wary when it came to finding out about the future. Using nationally representative samples of participants from European countries, the researchers estimated that 85 to 90 percent of people would prefer not to be tipped off about future negative events.

On top of that, 40 to 70 percent of people would rather not be in the know about upcoming positive events either. Altogether, only 1 percent of the people involved in the survey reliably wanted to know about both positive and negative events.

So why would most people rather not look into the crystal ball? According to the researchers, people are afraid that they’d regret learning about what the future holds.

Besides showing that people are inclined not to learn about what the future holds, the study found that wanting to remain clueless about the future is related to risk aversion. Those who prefer to leave the future a mystery are also more likely to purchase life insurance and legal insurance.

The researchers titled their paper on the study Cassandra’s Regret: The Psychology of Not Knowing, alluding to the mythological Greek figure of Cassandra, who was cursed to see the future but not to have anyone believe her. Overall, the results suggest that while we all sometimes wonder what the future has in store, most of us think that when it comes down to it, we’re better off not knowing.

Image: Flickr/m01229