The rational ignorance effect is an observed phenomenon in which individuals purposely and rationally decide not to become informed on a particular issue. In other words, the rational ignorance effect occurs as a result of a particular cause: a person weighs the benefits and drawbacks of educating him- or herself on a particular issue and decides that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.
The concept of the rational ignorance effect crops up regularly in daily life. Each person, on a regular basis, chooses that the effort in educating oneself on a particular topic is not worth the effort, and this topic is discarded. Virtually always, this decision is made almost unconsciously; so often, we read through things that we don't understand and immediately choose not to bother to learn more. This happens on a regular basis even here at e2, which is loaded with information junkies; readers read various writeups and instead of learning more, choose to move on to another writeup on a different topic.
It is the constant repetition of a cost-benefit analysis between choosing to learn more and choosing not to learn more that allows the effect to crop up so often. Our lives are filled with these choices: do we talk to people around us to know more about them, or do we keep quiet? Do we choose to investigate the reason why our monitor is flickering, or do we just keep browsing the web? Each time we make a choice that involves choosing whether or not to gain knowledge, and we choose not to, we invoke the rational ignorance effect.
Where the rational ignorance effect becomes interesting is when the choice between the two becomes a consideration. Does one choose to study for an exam, or does one choose instead to play contract bridge or hearts again? This is a choice I was faced with regularly in my life as a student, and quite often the rational ignorance effect took hold after I considered the deck of cards and the textbook in front of me.
Another interesting instance of the rational ignorance effect is when people don't bother to educate themselves about the candidates in a public election, instead choosing to vote based on political party, candidate marketing, or choosing not to vote at all. A result of the widespread impact of the rational ignorance effect in the United States then is the two party system; rather than bothering to investigate many of the aspects of the issue, people choose to instead vote based on whatever information is delivered to their ears and eyes. Since the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have the most effective machinery for delivering their message to the people, they get the votes.
The rational ignorance effect drives our everyday lives in a number of ways that we don't often realize, and in a number of ways that we do realize. It is an effect that none of us can avoid and that all of us have to properly balance within our lives.