Most of us at some point only want to be confronted with facts that do not hurt us, because it feels sweeter to only hear things that make us comfortable. A destructive behavior psychologists call information avoidance or strategic ignorance.
Why do we sometimes resist the facts, even when we know they’re important?
A recent paper on Wall Street Journal by James Shepperd, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida offers insightful examples and what to do to face hard truths.
We want to think of ourselves as healthy and smart, people who make good decisions, so we resist information that challenges these beliefs, says Dr. Shepperd.
The example offered in the paper talked about one who has health challenges, but wouldn’t consult a medical expert:
For instance, one who suffers from knee pain, knows he needs to see a doctor. But resolves never to make an attempt, Because they might tell him to stop doing what he loves most. Other examples shared by the author include those who avoid looking at their bank accounts after paying some bills, and one who would resist getting tested for cancer due to lack of support – because people tend to agree to things when they feel they have control over whatever the outcome is.
The findings by Dr. Shepperd and colleague offers some suggestions that help people muster the courage to face hard truths.
First, the researchers studied a pair of 2012 studies, where some women aged 35 to 79 read online brochure about breast cancer: One-third read uncontrollable predictors for breast cancer, another read controllable predictors. And the last one-third read no brochure.
Interestingly, those who had just read controllable predictors were eager to know their odds of getting breast cancer.
The question becomes: Can I avoid the bad outcome? Dr. Shepperd says.
You have some control over the situation. Note that!
A previous research by Lauren Griffin, director of external research for frank, at University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, shows that thinking about the control one has over other areas of life helps stop avoiding unwanted information. Controls may include the freedom to decide what type of treatment to seek.
This also boils down to the following questions: How might it be useful to know the thing you’re trying not to know? How can we cut through our resistance?
A research on “affirmation interventions” published in Psychological Science shows that people tend to listen to negative, yet important information when they think about what they value most in life (such as which among their traits or people makes their life meaningful).
This makes whatever threat is looming in front of you feel rather small and your resources to handle it seem larger, Dr. Shepperd says.