Why we prefer to be in pain than miss out on some juicy information
Scientists measured the ‘pain of not knowing’ against a painful instrument in the hand
We all like to reveal secrets – especially if there are juicy details.
But scientists have discovered that many of us endure significant physical pain to uncover information we know to be fairly meaningless.
Their study found that, for almost half of the 40 participants, the ‘pain of not knowing’ seemed worse than having an extremely painful heating device placed in their arm.
Participants were given the chance to win money by flipping an animated coin on a computer screen.
If they agreed to endure the device, they would know how much money they would win if the coin was red or blue. Conversely, they can choose to avoid the pain, and not know – but importantly win just the same.
Scientists have discovered that many of us endure significant physical pain to uncover information that we know is fairly meaningless.
According to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, uncertainty bothered people so much that they were willing to endure pain to cancel it.
The authors of the study, led by Professor Stefan Bode of the University of Melbourne, concluded: ‘We show that participants often take even high pains to obtain this useless information.
‘This suggests that the “pain of not knowing” can sometimes be more aversive than actual physical pain.’
The researchers found out what the low, moderate and high amount of pain was for each person in the experiment by placing the device on their arm and heating it.
One was less likely to find information if the pain was high.
And participants were more likely to agree to pain when the average amount of cash on offer was higher, which was found to increase scarring.
Yet there was no point in choosing pain, as each person knew that they would win up to £5 regardless.
It is thought that choosing pain can reduce feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
There is also evidence that people want to know the possible outcome of an event as soon as possible, even if they cannot change it.