Information Avoidance: Listening Only to What We Want to Hear

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-13 02:56

Engaging in information avoidance can make us miss out on vital information that will benefit us in the long run.

There are things that we'd rather not hear or read about. It can be about a political ideology different from ours, or a news piece that challenges our views. Maybe we're at risk for certain diseases, but we'd rather not think about it. Even something as simple as not checking nutritional facts when we want to lose weight is information avoidance.

A study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University shines a light on how we avoid information and why we do it. The study also illustrates how information avoidance impacts an individual and society as a whole.

Information Avoidance Techniques

According to the study, the simplest way that people avoid information is by simply ignoring it. A lot of information about almost anything is free and readily available. However, people choose to ignore it even when it is relevant to themselves or their lives.

Another way that we avoid information is through selecting only the bits and pieces of information that agree with us. For example, we're reading an article that explores both sides of an issue that we care about. We tend to only remember the parts that tell us that we're right about what we believe or think. We then tend to forget or give less consideration to the parts that challenge our views.

Even when a piece of information comes from a dubious source, we consider it true anyway as long as it confirms what we believe. However, when it comes to something that challenges our beliefs, we tend to disbelieve even the most credible of sources.

Hearing What We Need to Hear

Saturating people with information they don't want to hear isn't effective.

It's easy to understand why we avoid information. Sometimes, that information can cause us emotional pain or anxiety. It can force us to face hard truths or do something we aren't ready to do. We'd rather live as if everything's all right in the world.

The problem is that avoiding information can only comfort us in the present. At some point in the future, there's a big chance that we'll have to face what we've been avoiding. In cases like avoiding genetic testing for a potentially debilitating disease, avoidance can only hurt us in the long run. Information avoidance also widens political divides, especially with the demand for information that caters to one or the other side. Avoiding information can thus have ramifications both at the personal and social levels.

So how do we fight this phenomenon? According to the researchers, dropping information on people like bombs isn't effective. In fact, it's more likely to make others dig their heels in and become even more defensive rather than receptive. The researchers say that the most effective way to stop people from avoiding information is to increase receptivity. The more receptive we are to actually receiving information, the more receptive we are to expanding our world view. Understanding information avoidance can aid organizations in actually informing more people without making them defensive.

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