Fortune cookies and tarot cards may be popular, but new research suggests humans generally don't want to know their future. Photo by Melyn R. Acosta/European Pressphoto Agency
Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Surveys show most people, if given the chance to know their future, would decline to find out what lies ahead. People were especially adamant about remaining ignorant of future negative events.
Of more than 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain, upwards of 90 percent of respondents said they wouldn't want to know about forthcoming negative events. Between 40 and 70 percent said they'd wish to remain ignorant of positive events.
Researchers detailed the survey results in the journal Psychological Review.
"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," lead study author Gerd Gigerenzer, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany, said in a news release. "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 two surveys had respondents rate their willingness to learn of a variety of future events, both good and bad, trivial and monumental.
For example, participants were asked if they'd would like to know: whether their marriage would end in divorce; what they were getting for Christmas; when and how they would die; the results of a soccer game they had planned to watch later.
Results showed those least likely to want to know the future were most likely to be risk averse and buy life insurance. People are also more likely to choose to remain ignorant of events that are closer. Older adults were more likely to decline to know when and how they would die.
"Wanting to know appears to be the natural condition of humankind, and in no need of justification. People are not just invited but also often expected to participate in early detection for cancer screening or in regular health check-ups, to subject their unborn babies to dozens of prenatal genetic tests, or to use self-tracking health devices," said Gigerenzer. "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."