Strategic ignorance of health risk: its causes and policy consequences

Jonas Nordström, Linda Thunström, Klaas van 't Veld, Jason F. Shogren, Mariah Ehmke

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We examine the causes and policy implications of strategic (willful) ignorance of risk as an excuse to over-engage in risky health behavior. In an experiment on Copenhagen adults, we allow subjects to choose whether to learn the calorie content of a meal before consuming it and then measure their subsequent calorie intake. Consistent with previous studies, we find strong evidence of strategic ignorance: 46% of subjects choose to ignore calorie information, and these subjects subsequently consume more calories on average than they would have had they been informed. While previous studies have focused on self-control as the motivating factor for strategic ignorance of calorie information, we find that ignorance in our study is instead motivated by optimal expectations – subjects choose ignorance so that they can downplay the probability of their preferred meal being high-calorie. We discuss how the motivation matters to policy. Further, we find that the prevalence of strategic ignorance largely negates the effects of calorie information provision: on average, subjects who have the option to ignore calorie information consume the same number of calories as subjects who are provided no information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-114
Number of pages32
JournalBehavioural Public Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified

Free keywords

  • Strategic ignorance
  • Willful ignorance
  • Optimal expectations
  • menu labeling
  • calorie information


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