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Behavioral Obligation and Information Avoidance

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Annals of Behavioral Medicine

Abstract

Background

Although knowledge can be powerful and bring a variety of important benefits, people often opt to remain ignorant.

Purpose

We propose that people are particularly inclined to remain ignorant when learning information could obligate undesirable behavior.

Method

In three studies, participants completed an online risk calculator and then learned that receiving high-risk feedback from the calculator would obligate them to engage in a behavior that was either highly undesirable (e.g., undergoing a cervical exam and taking medication for the rest of their life) or only slightly undesirable (e.g., having their cheek swabbed and taking medication for 2 weeks). We then offered participants the opportunity to receive risk feedback from the calculator.

Results

Across all studies, participants more often avoided feedback when it could obligate highly undesirable behavior compared with mildly undesirable behavior.

Conclusion

People decline learning their risk information more often when doing so obligates undesirable behavior in response.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Although it would have been preferable to examine autonomy concerns among participants who actually completed the decision task, these items were not included in the experiment.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Kate Sweeny and three anonymous reviewers for their feedback on this manuscript. This article is based on work supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to Jennifer L. Howell, under grant no. DGE-0802270, and by an Intergovernmental Personnel Act agreement between James A. Shepperd and the National Cancer Institute.

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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Correspondence to Jennifer L. Howell M.S..

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Howell, J.L., Shepperd, J.A. Behavioral Obligation and Information Avoidance. ann. behav. med. 45, 258–263 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-012-9451-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-012-9451-9

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