Knowledge in Society

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 7–27 | Cite as

When ignorance is adaptive: Not knowing about the nuclear threat

  • Joseph P. Reser
  • Michael J. Smithson


The objective of this article is to examine the nature of individual and social responses to the nuclear threat from psychological and sociological perspectives on ignorance. It is argued that a constructed and managed ignorance concerning the nuclear threat serves many functions, structuring an individual and social reality which is reassuring, meaningful, and both individually and collectively self-serving. A sociology of ignorance framework is employed to articulate the possible benefits of “not knowing about” and collaboratively “not dealing with” the nuclear threat, as well as to define the longer-term costs of ignoring this threat. The distinctive roles played by various kinds of ignorance regarding this important issue are investigated, and the conventional wisdom that knowledge of the consequences of a nuclear war is the only way to prevent its occurrence is challenged.


Human Response Cognitive Appraisal Total Knowledge Psychological Reality Secondary Appraisal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Winter 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph P. Reser
    • 1
  • Michael J. Smithson
    • 1
  1. 1.James Cook University of North Queensland TownsvilleAustralia

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