The less people are aware of complex issues such as economy, environment and energy, the more they want to avoid becoming informed.

Researchers found that the more urgent the issue, the more people want to remain unaware, according to a study published online in the American Psychological Association's (APA) journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"These studies were designed to help understand the so-called 'ignorance is bliss' approach to social issues," said author Steven Shepherd, a graduate student with the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

A series of studies were conducted in 2010 and 2011 with 511 adults in the U.S and Canada describing a reaction to complex issues ranging from subjects as economy, environment, and energy.

To test the link among dependence, trust and avoidance, researchers provided either a simple description or complex description of economic downturn to participants. Those who received the complex description indicated higher levels of perceived helplessness, more dependence on and trust in the government to manage the economy, and less desire to learn more about the issue.

"This is despite the fact that, all else equal, one should have less trust in someone to effectively manage something that is more complex," said co-author Aaron C. Kay, PhD, of Duke University. "Instead, people tend to respond by psychologically 'outsourcing' the issue to the government, which in turn causes them to trust and feel more dependent on the government. Ultimately, they avoid learning about the issue because that could shatter their faith in the government."

With regard to energy, participants who felt unknowledgeable about oil supplies not only avoided negative information about the issue, but became reluctant to know more when the issue was urgent.

"Beyond just downplaying the catastrophic, doomsday aspects to their messages, educators may want to consider explaining issues in ways that make them easily digestible and understandable, with a clear emphasis on local, individual-level causes," said Shepherd.

"The findings can assist educators in addressing significant barriers to getting people involved and engaged in social issues," he said.

The study author recommended further research is needed to determine how people would react when faced with other important issues such as food safety, national security, health, social inequality, poverty and under what conditions people tend to respond with increased rather than decreased engagement.