head in sand
© David Grey/ Rutgers
Given the choice most people would not want to know their future, even if these events could make them happy, a new study has found. Researchers say that people would rather avoid the suffering that knowing the future could cause. Most people wish to avoid regretting their decision to know, and want to preserve the enjoyment of suspense in their lives, the research found.

The team also found that those who prefer not to know the future are more risk averse and are more likely to buy life and legal insurance than people who want to know the future. They claim that those who choose to be ignorant anticipate regret and so are more pessimistic.

The length of time until an event would occur played a role in participants' responses. Deliberate ignorance was more likely the nearer the event was. 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.

'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, Dr Gerd Gigerenzer, of Germany's Max Planck Institute.

'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 studies involving more than 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain found that 85 to 90 per cent of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events. Forty to 70 per cent preferred to remain ignorant of upcoming positive events. Only one per cent of participants consistently wanted to know what the future held.

Participants were asked about a range of both positive and negative potential events. For example, they were asked if they wanted to know who won a football 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. Only 37 per cent of participants said they would not want to know.

Although people living in Germany and Spain vary in age, education and other important aspects, the pattern of deliberate ignorance was consistent across both countries. According to the researchers, this consistency was true of the prevalence and predictability of deliberate ignorance.

'Wanting to know appears to be the natural condition of humankind, and in no need of justification,' Dr Gigerenzer said. '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. 'Not wanting to know appears counter-intuitive and may raise eyebrows, but deliberate ignorance, as we've shown here, doesn't just exist; it is a widespread state of mind.'