Information Aversion

August 9, 2018


"What do we do when something makes us sad or depressed? We turn away from it. When the thing that's depressing is information, we say, I don't want to hear about it. Social scientists call this behavior information aversion. More commonly, it's called the ostrich effect." (Hidden Brain podcast 09.06.2018)


We want to believe we're rational beings that our decisions are made devoid of emotions. We're called Homo sapiens for a reason. We're "wise humans" right?

But science demonstrates otherwise. The human brain operates with biases developed during our evolution. We think we're making completely sensible decisions, but our brain overrides our "sensibility" by acting in hidden ways. One of the ways the brain overrides our so-called rational choices is by seeking to avert information that we perceive to be harmful.


In one study "Women who had a co-worker diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer were less likely to skip their annual screenings. But if a woman had a more aggressive case of breast cancer, her colleagues were the ones who were more likely to skip the screenings." (Hidden Brain)

While we think we're making completely sensible decisions,

our brain overrides our "sensibility" by acting in hidden ways.

Avoiding bad news is a way we "protect" ourselves. Averting mental anguish is the brain's way of feeling safe. The "fight-flight" response says when we feel in danger, our brain releases adrenaline so we can prepare to protect ourselves by fighting or fleeing. Information aversion is the way our brain copes with the "danger" of bad news.


I raise this in light of the congregational survey currently underway and the community survey to begin in September. The information collected about the congregation may be challenging. For instance, preliminary data shows there's been a slow decline in membership, worship attendance and revenue over the past 10 years. How will leadership respond? How will church members respond? I certainly hope it won't be to be afraid of the information. I actually fully trust Calvin's leaders and members will rise to the challenge not flee from it.


But we're humans. We have the potential to allow our biases to control our responses. Being aware of these biases and the problems they can cause is important. Awareness is the beginning of discernment. Aware of the information gathered in the surveys can help us balance our consolations and desolations (cf. St. Ignatius).

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Calvin Presbyterian Church

415 East Grandview Ave.
Zelienople PA 16063



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