Motivated Ignorance, Rationality, and Democratic Politics
When the costs of acquiring knowledge outweigh the benefits of possessing it, ignorance is rational. In this paper I clarify and explore a related but more neglected phenomenon: cases in which ignorance is motivated by the anticipated costs of possessing knowledge, not acquiring it. The paper has four aims. First, I describe the psychological and social factors underlying this phenomenon of motivated ignorance. Second, I describe those conditions in which it is instrumentally rational. Third, I draw on evidence from the social sciences to argue that this phenomenon of rational motivated ignorance plays an important but often unappreciated role in one of the most socially harmful forms of ignorance today: voter ignorance of societal risks such as climate change. Finally, I consider how to address the high social costs associated with rational motivated ignorance.