We all have our biases. As budding physicians, we often have anchoring bias where we fixate on a possible diagnosis and ignore the data that is contrary to it. I recently came across an article that highlighted a review that looked at information avoidance. Basically, the authors of this study highlighted ways that people essentially create their own reality by intentionally avoiding information that threatens overall happiness.
While many people simply fail to obtain information at all, the authors emphasize that there many different information avoidance strategies employed by individuals. Another strategy is inattention, where subjects selectively direct their attention to ideas or concepts that they agree with rather than ones that challenge them. Other strategies included biased interpretation of data, forgetting information that was relayed to them, and choosing tasks that are mismatched to their ability in an effort to avoid an actual task that would elucidate unfavorable about themselves. The authors highlighted some interesting results pertaining to the medical field as well!
For instance, they highlighted a study that suggested that some cancer patients avoid information about prognosis in order to keep hope for recovery. Also, if a patient has a confirmation bias towards certain treatments, they may choose to accept ineffective treatment and judge those treatments as more effective than they actually are.
I thought this paper was a fascinating read. The fact that people examined how people avoid information was mind blowing to me! Hopefully, this can shed some light in how we approach our patients as well as how we, as physicians, approach information. It’s always healthy to be aware of your biases and strive to eliminate them. Easier said than done though!