When it comes to complex social issues, some people choose willful ignorance so they can continue putting their faith in government, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
The less people know about big issues such as the economy, environment and energy consumption, the more they will avoid becoming well-versed on the topics, especially if the issue is urgent.
After conducting five studies involving 511 adults in Canada and the U.S., the researchers described "a chain reaction from ignorance about a subject to dependence on and trust in the government to deal with the issue."
In one study, 197 participants who felt acutely vulnerable during the recession simultaneously avoided information that questioned their government's ability to manage the faltering economy.
Another study involved 163 American respondents who felt ignorant about oil: they tended to avoid stories about imminent shortages, becoming even more reluctant when they were written up with urgency.
A third survey saw 58 Canadians reading either simple or complex documents about the economy: Those who read the latter said they felt less desire to learn about the recession, feeling their government would take care of it.
"People tend to respond by psychologically 'outsourcing' the issue to the government," co-author Aaron C. Kay of Duke University said in a release. "Ultimately, they avoid learning about the issue because that could shatter their faith in the government."
The authors said the research has implications for educators: "Beyond just downplaying the catastrophic, doomsday aspects to their messages, educators may want to consider explaining issues in ways that make them easily digestible and understandable, with a clear emphasis on local, individual-level causes."
Is ignorance bliss, or laziness?