Projection in surrogate decisions about life-sustaining medical treatments

Health Psychol. 2001 May;20(3):166-75.


To honor the wishes of an incapacitated patient, surrogate decision makers must predict the treatment decisions patients would make for themselves if able. Social psychological research, however, suggests that surrogates' own treatment preferences may influence their predictions of others' preferences. In 2 studies (1 involving 60 college student surrogates and a parent, the other involving 361 elderly outpatients and their chosen surrogate decision maker), surrogates predicted whether a close other would want life-sustaining treatment in hypothetical end-of-life scenarios and stated their own treatment preferences in the same scenarios. Surrogate predictions more closely resembled surrogates' own treatment wishes than they did the wishes of the individual they were trying to predict. Although the majority of prediction errors reflected inaccurate use of surrogates' own treatment preferences, projection was also found to result in accurate prediction more often than counterprojective predictions. The rationality and accuracy of projection in surrogate decision making is discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents
  • Third-Party Consent*