It seems — if given the option — we should choose to see what our future holds. After all, we spend much of our time trying to protect ourselves from life’s unknowns.
But German and Spanish researchers find most people would rather not know what is to come, whether the imminent circumstances are good or bad.
Scientists at the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of Granada studied more than 2,000 people in Germany and Spain and picked their brains about potential future events. The participants were asked whether they’d like to know the outcome of a soccer game they planned to watch, their future Christmas gifts and whether their marriage would end in divorce.
A majority of people would not want to be aware of future upcoming negative events, researchers discovered. And even for positive events, responders preferred ignorance.
Barely any of those studied — about 1% — always wanted to know what life had in store.
The study’s lead author Gerd Gigerenzer said people don’t want to know their future “to avoid the suffering and regret that knowing the future may cause and also to maintain the enjoyment of suspense that pleasurable events provide.”
Your willingness to peer into the future, the research found, also can tell you a bit about your personality. Those who wished not to know the future, the study found, were “more risk-averse and more frequently buy life and legal insurance than those who want to know the future.”
The study also found the closer an event was, the more likely people didn’t want to know about it. People who are older, researchers said, weren’t as likely to want to know the cause and date of their death or that of a loved one compared to younger people. The only part of the survey in which most people wanted to know the future is when asked whether they’d want to know the future of their unborn child. Only about 37% said they’d rather be in the dark on their baby’s gender.
“Not wanting to know appears counterintuitive and may raise eyebrows,” Gigerenzer said. “But deliberate ignorance, as we’ve shown here, doesn’t just exist; it is a widespread state of mind.”