In 2013, academics looking at the psychology of dread carried out a seemingly cruel experiment. After attaching electrodes to the backs of 35 participants’ hands, they offered each person the choice between receiving a sharp electric shock immediately or waiting for a milder one. The researchers (Giles Story et al, 2013) found that 70 per of the time, the participants opted to receive more painful shocks right away. Anticipating an unpleasant experience was seemingly deemed worse than the experience itself.

This, and other similar experiments, illustrate that humans have a natural disposition to prefer certainty over uncertainty – whether that certainty is a nasty zap to the hand or, for example, terrible news about yourself or others. Certainty means that we are able to plan and work out how we can handle a situation – and, ultimately, that makes

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