Bad news, now or later..

OK, let say the spring semester is done last week and today I will do some fun stuffs with family, which I have planned a couple of weeks ago. Right before I start the car, my phone rings to give a notification that my grade for this semester has been announced and I can check them through the Website. What would you do in this situation? A paper in the Judgment and Decision Making examined the information avoidance and/or information delay (Shani et al., 2012).

When the authors asked 227 students (80 examinees who took an exam on Tuesday, and 147 examinees who took an exam on Friday), only 111 out of 147 (75.5%) students, who took the exam on Friday, checked the correct answers within two days, while 91.5 of students who took the exam on Tuesday checked the answers within two days. The finding represents that the people are more likely to postpone finding out their grade until after a pleasurable event (a weekend).

In order to address a hypothesis that people temporarily avoid information if they think it could interfere with a pleasurable event, the researchers conducted a similar survey assuming the participant has taken a qualifying exam – a fixed factorial design with type of weekend (Regular weekend vs. weekend in Paris for vacation) as a between-subjects variable and the rumination questions (expected rumination about the uncertainty of having possible failed an exam or the expected rumination about knowing they had failed the exam) as a within-subjects variable. In the regular weekend, participants expected to ruminate more over a possible failure than over a known failure, while participants who were asked to answer with regard to the enjoyable weekend expected to ruminate relatively more if they decided to check and found out they failed than if they decided not to check. This results indicated that people believe having negative knowledge would be worse during a vacation, whereas ignorance about that knowledge would not matter a lot during an enjoyable weekend.

Another study in which the participants were asked to answer about the information avoidance in different situations – 2 weekend type (regular vs. weekend of my brother’s wedding) and 2 HIV test reason (blood donation vs. in case of stabbed by a dirty injection needle that probably belonged to a junkie) – supports the findings that the more people wanted the weekend to be pleasurable as possible, the more they avoided the information.

When it comes to exploratory search through which I measure people’s information seeking behavior in more natural setting – even though sometimes it takes place in a lab with very limited flexibility compared to everyday life search – to what extent will participants avoid or postpone more rich search? Definitely not because they want to spend a enjoyable weekend given that the usual lab task would take less then an hour and the information they asked to look for is not highly related to their well-being, happy grades, luxury of life, etc. When we see the processes that happening an exploratory search as (1) visiting and (2) seeing, the information avoidance presented in this study is about the seeing part, where reading, seeing, understanding, reasoning the information is taking place in individuals’ context.



Shani, Y., Van de Ven, N., & Zeelenberg, M. (2012). Delaying information search. Judgment and Decision Making, 7(6), 750.