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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Humans selectively edit reality before accepting it

Olivia Goldhill
Originally published March 26, 2017

Knowledge is power, so the saying goes, which makes it all the more striking how determined humans are to avoid useful information. Research in psychology, economics, and sociology has, over the course of several decades, highlighted countless examples of cases where humans are apt to ignore information. A review of these earlier studies by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, published this month in the Journal of Economic Literature, shows the extent to which humans avoid information and so selectively edit their own reality.

Rather than highlighting all the myriad ways humans fail to proactively seek out useful information, the paper’s authors focus on active information avoidance: Cases where individuals know information is available and have free access to that information, yet choose not to consider it. Examples of this phenomenon, revealed by the previous studies, include investors not looking at their financial portfolios when the stock market is down; patients taking STD tests and then failing to obtain the results; professionals refusing to look at their colleagues’ feedback on their work; and even the propensity of wealthy people to avoid poor neighborhoods so they don’t feel awareness of and guilt over their own privilege.

The article is here.