Closing Your Eyes to Follow Your Heart: Avoiding Information to Protect a Strong Intuitive Preference

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Abstract

Rationally, people should want to receive information that is costless and relevant for a decision. But people sometimes choose to remain ignorant. The current paper identifies intuitive-deliberative conflict as a driver of information avoidance. Moreover, we examine whether people avoid information not only to protect their feelings or experiences, but also to protect the decision itself. We predict that people avoid information that could encourage a more thoughtful, deliberative decision to make it easier to enact their intuitive preference. In Studies 1 and 2, people avoid learning the calories in a tempting dessert and compensation for a boring task to protect their preferences to eat the dessert and work on a more enjoyable task. The same people who want to avoid the information, however, use it when it is provided. In Studies 3–5, people decide whether to learn how much money they could earn by accepting an intuitively unappealing bet (that a sympathetic student performs poorly or that a hurricane hits a third-world country). Although intuitively unappealing, the bets are financially rational because they only have financial upside. If people avoid information in part to protect their intuitive preference, then avoidance should be greater when an intuitive preference is especially strong and when information could influence the decision. As predicted, avoidance is driven by the strength of the intuitive preference (Study 3) and, ironically, information avoidance is greater before a decision is made, when the information is decision relevant, than after, when the information is irrelevant for the decision (Studies 4 and 5).

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