When knowledge is blinding: The dangers of being certain about the future during uncertain societal events

Irmak Olcaysoy Okten, Anton Gollwitzer, Gabriele Oettingen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Past research has independently examined the concepts of certainty and future thought. Here we combine these concepts by examining the cognitive and behavioral outcomes of certainty about the future during periods of societal uncertainty. Three studies (N = 1218) examined future certainty, defined as feeling certain about some future event or outcome, during two major societal events of uncertainty—the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. In Study 1, certainty about positive or negative futures of COVID-19 (e.g., the pandemic will end soon; the pandemic will never end) predicted poorer information seeking—ignorance of medical experts, adherence to conspiratorial thinking, and lower objective knowledgeability about COVID-19. Building on these findings, in Study 2, future certainty predicted antisocial health behaviors, including failing to social distance. Study 3 extended these findings to the political domain—the 2020 Presidential Election. Future certainty that one's preferred candidate would win the election predicted poor information seeking and antisocial behaviors in terms of claiming that the election was rigged, endorsing violence if one's candidate lost, and, among Trump supporters, identifying with Capitol insurrectionists. These findings suggest that future certainty is linked to intellectual blindness and antisocial behaviors during important periods of societal uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111606
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Elections
  • Future thinking
  • Information seeking
  • Subjective certainty
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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