What is it about?

From corporate corruption to global warming, not knowing how our action may harm others allow us to feel good about ourselves while doing bad. We present the first meta-analysis on willful ignorance—when people avoid information about the negative consequences of their actions to maximize personal outcomes—covering 33,603 decisions made by 6,531 participants across 56 treatment effects. Our results demonstrate the ability to avoid information about the consequences of our actions decreases altruistic behaviors, and that seemingly altruistic behavior may not reflect a true concern for others.

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Why is it important?

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. While most people are willing to do right thing when they are fully informed the consequences of their action, 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.


To me this research does not have to come across as negative news about human altruism. In a way, the research shows that we have a moral compass that guides our actions, telling us what is right and what is wrong. Without our internal awareness of altruistic vs. selfish behaviors, there is no need for willful ignorance. Writing this article with my esteemed co-authors has been a great pleasure. It was a thought provoking experience for me, and I hope it will encourage other researchers to join in the discussion and contribute to explore different avenues to reduce willful ignorance, an emerging topic that has just begun to be explored.

Linh Vu
University of Amsterdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Ignorance by choice: A meta-analytic review of the underlying motives of willful ignorance and its consequences., Psychological Bulletin, September 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/bul0000398.
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