The Pandora Effect: Sometimes We Just Can’t Help Ourselves

There are so many things in our world to explore. Curiosity is a natural part of being human. Most people have experienced the urge of just “having to know” something. Without our natural curiosity, we may never have discovered things like vaccinations, electricity, or other planets. Research professions depend on this natural instinct to continue learning about animals, the human body and the environment. Overwhelming interest in things that may not even be of our concern, can have negative effects, however. There are times when it is best to simply mind our own business, but common sense rarely wins the battle. Scientists have named this human behavior “The Pandora Effect,” and here’s how it affects us and those around us.


Scientists are interested in finding out what drives people to follow their curiosity about things that may lead to negative consequences. Findings, so far, have linked actions to the uncertainty related to unknowing. People have shown that they are more interested in knowing information than avoiding pain or consequences. Humans put effort into finding out as much information as possible about things they are uncertain about, even when they know that negative events may follow. This urge is stronger in some people rather than others. Even young children go about finding out things like where the Christmas presents are hidden or what is behind locked doors.

We know it is dangerous to take our eyes off of the road; however, many people still turn to look when there is a car wreck. This sometimes results in subsequent accidents, as passing drivers are not paying attention to their own driving. Even with the knowledge of danger, drivers turn away from what they are doing to try and figure out what is going on. It takes more self-control to avoid danger in this situation than it does to look at the accident scene. Researchers want to know why it is so hard for us to look away, when we should be concerned about our own safety.

This is what behavior specialists have termed “the perverse side of uncertainty.” Questions arise about why it is so important to us to see the details of accident or find out secrets.


There have been many experiments aimed at finding out how people handle uncertainty, and the lengths they are willing to go through to find out what they want to know. In most of these experiments the subjects are given objects or tasks that offer known outcomes, as well as unknown results. In one well-known experiment, people were given pens with stickers on them that determined whether or not an electric shock would be given when clicked. There were then some pens given that had no indicator of the outcome. Even though the subjects were aware of the possibility of a shock, more people clicked the pens that were not labeled.

The curiosity to find out what a click of each pen would bring, outweighed the fear of pain from an electric shock.

Other studies were done, and negative effects were provided with some actions. People still chose the option with the most uncertainty. The actions offered were the clicking of a pen, pressing a button, or viewing photos. All experiments showed the same results. The subjects chose the questionable objects and activities more than those with known actions. Curiosity got the better of them, even when the consequences were known to possibly be negative or uncomfortable.

Think About It

Researchers think that people should try to think through things before they act to avoid negative consequences. Of course, there may not always be time to do this. It is suggested that people should try to focus on the possible negative consequences instead of on their curiosity. This way they may be able to convince themselves to take a different course of action. This method takes some dedication and time to perfect, however.

Curiosity, however, has a place in our lives. In today’s modern culture, everything comes with a label or instruction manual. At some point in history, however, people had to learn about their surroundings by exploration. Curiosity about the environment may have been a good thing. Even today, curiosity fuels a lot of careers. Scientists are compelled to find the answers to problems, and police investigators want to completely understand a crime scene. Curiosity has also led us to learn a lot about our history.

The Pandora Effect can cause people to make decisions that may end up causing negative actions. It is apparent from large amounts of research, that the majority of people are less concerned with pain or bad feelings, and more concerned with ending the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty. It seems that most of us simply cannot help ourselves when there is something to be found out.

Editor's Picks

As her name suggests, Jenna Small stands little over 4ft tall. Being petite and blonde, many often underestimate her talent. As a result, she spent her entire life working twice as hard to prove that she was the best. Now an established geologist, she does not beat around the bush when it comes to her work. Her research has been published and used in schools throughout the region. She often states that her most significant accomplishment was choosing to better herself through a solid education. When she is not busy unearthing new findings, she volunteers as a motivational speaker to girls who have been victims of bullying, discrimination, or harassment.

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