Doc, what would you do if you were me? On self-other discrepancies in medical decision making

J Exp Psychol Appl. 2012 Mar;18(1):38-51. doi: 10.1037/a0026018. Epub 2011 Oct 31.


Doctors often make decisions for their patients and predict their patients' preferences and decisions to customize advice to their particular situation. We investigated how doctors make decisions about medical treatments for their patients and themselves and how they predict their patients' decisions. We also studied whether these decisions and predictions coincide with the decisions that the patients make for themselves. We document 3 important findings. First, doctors made more conservative decisions for their patients than for themselves (i.e., they more often selected a safer medical treatment). Second, doctors did so even if they accurately predicted that their patients would want a riskier treatment than the one they selected. Doctors, therefore, showed substantial self-other discrepancies in medical decision making and did not make decisions that accurately reflected their patients' preferences. Finally, patients were not aware of these discrepancies and thought that the decisions their doctors made for themselves would be similar to the decisions they made for their patients. We explain these results in light of 2 current theories of self-other discrepancies in judgment and decision making: the risk-as-feelings hypothesis and the cognitive hypothesis. Our results have important implications for research on expert decision making and for medical practice, and shed some light on the process underlying self-other discrepancies in decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation*
  • Patient Preference*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians