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Be Ignorant? Or Be Generous?

A new study has found that people prefer to be ignorant when they don't want to pay the consequences.


It's not that they're altruistic. It's that, when given the choice to learn 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, as reported at newswise.com.


“Examples of such willful ignorance abound in everyday life, such as when consumers ignore information about the problematic origins of the products they buy,” the website quotes lead author Linh Vu, MS, a doctoral candidate at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “We wanted to know just how prevalent and how harmful willful ignorance is, as well as why people engage in it.”


Researchers conducted a series of studies with a total of 6,531 participants. "The studies were all conducted in research labs or online, and most followed a protocol in which some participants were told the consequences of their actions, while others could choose whether to learn the consequences or not," newswise notes.


Here's the funny part: The researchers thought that one reason for willful ignorance might be that some people behave altruistically because they want to maintain a positive self-image of being an altruistic person. "In those cases, willful ignorance can allow them to maintain that self-image without having to act in an altruistic way," newswise explains.


According to study co-author Shaul Shalvi, PhD, a professor of behavioral ethics at the University of Amsterdam. People who chose to learn the consequences of their action were 7 percentage points more likely to be generous compared with participants who were given information by default, according to newswise.com. That suggests that truly altruistic people choose to learn the consequences of their actions.


“The findings are fascinating as they suggest a lot of the altruistic behaviors we observe are driven by a desire to behave as others expect us to,” Shalvi says at the website. “While most people are willing to do the right thing when they are fully informed of the consequences of their actions, this willingness is not always because people care for others. A part of the reasons why people act altruistically is due to societal pressures as well as their desire to view themselves in a good light. Since being righteous is often costly, demanding people to give up their time, money and effort, ignorance offers an easy way out.”

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