New Study: People Outsource Their Ignorance to Government

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Says it all.

ScienceDaily is reporting a truly depressing new study that finds that when it comes to complicated economic issues, people default to trusting government to address them. Read it and weep:

The less people know about important complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption and the environment, the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

And the more urgent the issue, the more people want to remain unaware, according to a paper published online in APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"These studies were designed to help understand the so-called 'ignorance is bliss' approach to social issues," said author Steven Shepherd, a graduate student with the University of Waterloo in Ontario. "The findings can assist educators in addressing significant barriers to getting people involved and engaged in social issues." 

Through a series of five studies conducted in 2010 and 2011 with 511 adults in the United States and Canada, the researchers described "a chain reaction from ignorance about a subject to dependence on and trust in the government to deal with the issue."

In one study, participants who felt most affected by the economic recession avoided information challenging the government's ability to manage the economy. However, they did not avoid positive information, the study said. This study comprised 197 Americans with a mean age of 35 (111 women and 89 men), who had received complex information about the economy and had answered a question about how the economy is affecting them directly.

To test the links among dependence, trust and avoidance, researchers provided either a complex or simple description of the economy to a group of 58 Canadians, mean age 42, composed of 20 men and 38 women. The participants who received the complex description indicated higher levels of perceived helplessness in getting through the economic downturn, more dependence on and trust in the government to manage the economy, and less desire to learn more about the issue.

"This is despite the fact that, all else equal, one should have less trust in someone to effectively manage something that is more complex," said co-author Aaron C. Kay, PhD, of Duke University. "Instead, people tend to respond by psychologically 'outsourcing' the issue to the government, which in turn causes them to trust and feel more dependent on the government. Ultimately, they avoid learning about the issue because that could shatter their faith in the government."

Shatter their faith in the government?! Horrors! The study also found that when it comes to other complicated issues such as those concerning energy supplies and environment, people also tended to offload their thinking to the government. 

For more details, read the study, "On the perpetuation of ignorance: System dependence, system justification, and the motivated avoidance of sociopolitical information," in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology here [PDF]. 

Go here to find out why libertarians are a bit different. 

Hat tip Mark Sletten.