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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Measuring Information Preferences

E. H. Ho, D. Hagmann, & G. Loewenstein
Management Science
Published Online:13 Mar 2020


Advances in medical testing and widespread access to the internet have made it easier than ever to obtain information. Yet, when it comes to some of the most important decisions in life, people often choose to remain ignorant for a variety of psychological and economic reasons. We design and validate an information preferences scale to measure an individual’s desire to obtain or avoid information that may be unpleasant but could improve future decisions. The scale measures information preferences in three domains that are psychologically and materially consequential: consumer finance, personal characteristics, and health. In three studies incorporating responses from over 2,300 individuals, we present tests of the scale’s reliability and validity. We show that the scale predicts a real decision to obtain (or avoid) information in each of the domains as well as decisions from out-of-sample, unrelated domains. Across settings, many respondents prefer to remain in a state of active ignorance even when information is freely available. Moreover, we find that information preferences are a stable trait but that an individual’s preference for information can differ across domains.

General Discussion

Making good decisions is often contingent on obtaining information, even when that
information is uncertain and has the potential to produce unhappiness. Substantial empirical
evidence suggests that people are often ready to make worse decisions in the service of avoiding
potentially painful information. We propose that this tendency to avoid information is a trait that
is separate from those measured previously, and developed a scale to measure it. The scale asks
respondents to imagine how they would respond to a variety of hypothetical decisions involving
information acquisition/avoidance. The predictive validity of the IPS appears to be largely driven
by its domain items, and although it incorporates domain-specific subscales, it appears to be
sufficiently universal to capture preferences for information in a broad range of domains.

The research is here.

We already knew, to some extent, that there are cases where people avoid information.  This is important in psychotherapy in which avoidance promotes confirmatory hypothesis testing, which enhances overconfidence.  We need to help people embrace information that may be inconsistent or incongruent with their worldview.