This paper analyzes if people use ignorance as an excuse to pursue immediate gratification, at the expense of future wellbeing, a behavior we label ‘strategic self-ignorance’. In a theoretical model we show that present-biased individuals benefit from choosing ignorance of the potentially negative impact of present consumption, and that ignorance leads to over consumption of harmful goods. In an experiment we empirically test for strategic self-ignorance. The experiment entails prepared meals, for which subjects may be familiar with the taste (immediate utility) but are uninformed of the calorie content (potential harm to future health). Subjects are offered costless information on the calorie content of the meal alternatives. A majority of subjects (58 percent) choose to remain ignorant of the calorie content, and ignorance leads to a significantly higher intake of calories. Our results imply that people are strategically self-ignorant and that such behavior may help explain over consumption of harmful goods.
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Levine's Working Paper Archive
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