Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Understanding Apathy

Shepherd, S. & Kay, A. C. (2012). On the Perpetuation of Ignorance: System Dependence, System Justification, and the Motivated Avoidance of Sociopolitical Information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(2), 264-280.

The researchers ask why people sometimes respond passively to powerfully conveyed, severe problems?

They conclude that maintaining unfamiliarity is a conflict reduction strategy that reduces psychological discomfort.

They posit that this conflict reduction strategy is further bolstered by the default belief that government is addressing the problem.

The belief that government is taking care of the problem absolves the individual of having to worry further and facilitates studied ignorance.


I could replicate this study in my workplace and in the context of my community life.

No level of education is insurance against this tendency!

99% of the people who know I am studying Fukushima avoid asking about the status of this mega-disaster despite the fact that one of the largest nuclear plants in the country is located within 60 miles of their home (Palo Verde).

As the authors of the articles note, the tendency to lean on government psychologically allows people to "outsource their worries and fears" thus leading to "the propagation of ignorance in the context of important social issues" (p. 277).

Our cultural and/or biological tendencies to acknowledge only those risks that confront us in the empirical now are enabling our self-destruction.

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