The results were striking. Only 48 percent of individuals who imagined being the patient said they would choose the flu vaccine for themselves, but 57 percent of those imagining being parents would decide to vaccinate a child. Further, 63 percent of respondents taking on a physician role would advise a patient to get it, and 73 percent of those acting as medical directors would choose to vaccinate large numbers of patients.
The same pattern repeated itself in the chemotherapy scenario with 60 percent choosing it for themselves, 72 percent choosing it for their children and 68 percent opting to advise individual patients and groups to get it.
"It's very hard to see the big picture when faced with a tough medical decision," says lead author Brian Zikmund-Fisher, Ph.D. "We get wrapped up in our own situation, and that perspective makes us focus on certain aspects of problem and ignore others." It's also human nature to avoid an option that might bring immediate harm upon yourself -- even when a 'wait and see' approach may carry even greater risks than taking action. It's a reaction that researchers call the 'omission tendency.'"
"Trying to step into someone else's shoes might give you a different perspective when you have a difficult health decision to make," Zikmund-Fisher explains. "If we take a moment, pause and consider the situation from a different angle, then that may help us see all the different pieces of information that are relevant. If we do that, we may end up making a different choice, but even if we don't, we can be confident that we have made an informed choice."
The study also highlights another human tendency that arises when we're in the position of making decisions on behalf of another person -- to try to do everything in our power to help them. Whether it's
Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System