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Tali Sharot and Cass Sunstein discuss how people decide what they want to know

As massive amounts of information are becoming available to people – much of it predicting future outcomes for the individuals themselves – this question is particularly timely. People must now decide whether they want to receive highly personalized information about their health, genetic make-up, and financial prospects, as well as those of their children.

These decisions are particularly difficult because knowledge and its avoidance can serve several, sometimes competing, functions. People need to weigh the expected impact of information on their actions (will the knowledge help me make better decisions?), affect (how will the information make me feel?) and cognition (how will it alter my internal model of the world?). Serious complications can arise, as temporal discounting and loss aversion, for example, might lead people to avoid information even though it would have a great deal of instrumental value.

In this session, Tali Sharot discusses her recent work which tries to tease apart how people decide what they want to know and demonstrates that those decisions provide a valuable window into people’s minds.