People might go to extraordinary measures to find out which character will be resurrected in the next season of Game of Thrones or who Rey’s parents really are in Star Wars, but according to a new study, most would rather live spoiler-free in real life.
The study, published in Psychological Review, found that most people don’t actually want to know the future, especially if the future event is something negative like the death of a loved one or likelihood of divorce.
“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,” explained lead author Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in a statement. “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.”
The research, which was conducted on 2,000 participants in Spain and Germany, found that 85-90 percent would rather remain ignorant about any upcoming negative events. Neither did they want to be informed about upcoming positive events, with 40-70 percent choosing instead to remain in the dark. In fact, only 1 percent of the participants wanted to know what the future held.
The participants were asked a number of questions about whether, hypothetically, they would like to know the outcomes of potential events, both positive and negative. The questions ranged from knowing what you were getting for Christmas or the outcome of a sports game to when and how they or a partner would die and whether there is life after death.
In almost every instance, the majority of people chose “deliberate ignorance” over knowing. The only question that had a majority for people wanting to know was the sex of an unborn baby, with 37 percent saying they didn’t want to know.
The researchers suggest that those who chose deliberate ignorance do so because they think they will regret knowing the answer. By choosing not to know, they are avoiding those negative feelings that might come with learning about future events.
They also found that those who wanted to remain ignorant were more likely to avoid risk and buy life insurance, actions that are motivated by the anticipation of regret, which backed up their theory of why people would choose not to know what the future held, instead of the common assumption that people would rather be prepared.
“Not wanting to know appears counterintuitive and may raise eyebrows, but deliberate ignorance, as we’ve shown here, doesn’t just exist; it is a widespread state of mind,” said Gigerenzer.