Most People Would Rather Not Know Their Future, Study Finds


The coin-operated fortune teller Zoltar is a popular attraction in the American West Coast, and even made an appearance in the 1988 Tom Hanks film "Big." David Kosmos Smith/Flickr
The coin-operated fortune teller Zoltar is a popular attraction in the American West Coast, and even made an appearance in the 1988 Tom Hanks film "Big." David Kosmos Smith/Flickr

What if you knew the future? Maybe not the entire future, like next week's lottery numbers or which airplane is going to tumble out of the sky, but your personal future, like whether you'd actually find true love, retire early or live until the age of 100?

According to new research published by the American Psychological Association, most people, if given the chance, don't want to know what the future has in store — even if it's good news. The APA finds that people would rather relish the suspense of pleasurable events and avoid the anguish of knowing that bad events are inevitable.

The findings, published in the APA journal Psychological Review, featured two studies of 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain, with 85 to 90 percent of participants reporting they didn't want to know about upcoming negative events. In addition, 40 to 70 percent weren't keen on knowing upcoming positive events, either.

So who wants to know the future? In the case of these two studies, only 1 percent of people surveyed wanted to know what the future holds.

It's a response that seems counterintuitive, especially considering the number of people who "participate in early detection for cancer screening or regular health check-ups ... or use self-tracking health devices," said the study's lead author Gerd Gigerenzer, Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

Ironically, the studies will help scientists predict whether someone is open to soothsaying. The study participants who didn't want to know the future were more risk averse and more likely to buy life and legal insurance than those who wanted to know the future. However, those who would opt for a window into future events wanted to avoid regret.

Both sides were influenced by length of hypothetical time into the future proposed. Events that were closer in the future prompted more people to want to know the outcome. For example, older adults were more likely to want to know when they would die, and how. But those that were hypothetically more distant were less enticing.

Despite the clear division in people who did — and did not — want to know the future, nearly everyone agreed they would want to find out the sex of an unborn child. Now where's the suspense in that?