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Messages That Don't 'Fit' May Enable Better Medical Choices

Messages That Don’t “Fit” May Enable Better Medical Choices

New research suggest the use of non-fit messages may help individuals better understand options, improving the ability to make difficult medical decisions.

When it comes to helping patients make the best choices for themselves, sometimes you have to challenge their usual way of dealing with the world, according to new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

This intervention strategy is based on a motivational theory by Tory Higgins, that says that some people, when making decisions or moving toward their goals, consider what losses they could avoid (prevention orientation), while other people think first about what gains they could achieve (promotion orientation) in the same situation.

If information fits an individual’s need for achieving gains or avoiding losses, then the person “feels right” about the information, which, in turn, enhances their confidence in their judgments.

However if information does not match an individuals’ need, is instead a “non-fit,” the person feels that something is “wrong.” That in turn lowers their confidence in their judgments and facilitate more thoughtful information processing.

For example, given a choice between hospice care or further treatment, individuals may make a decision that fits what they believe they want, but is counter to what they actually want.

In an effort to understand how doctors might help patients better understand their options, researchers have tested using non-fit messaging, and found that it helps to reduce certain biases.

The study appears in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology.

“In our research, the participants initially were feeling anxious about a hypothetical medical decision and this negative reaction made them less open to information that could serve their interests,” said lead author Ilona Fridman, at the Columbia Business School.

“We developed a tool that can help patients/individuals and physicians to deal with decisions that provoke strong reactions,” says Fridman.

“At times, these reactions make patients to choose options that do not match their actual values and long-term goals.”

“As an intervention, we thought it would be useful to create a mismatch (non-fit) between the information and their individual motivational orientations to reduce their initial negative reactions toward information.”

Across five studies, participants were asked to imagine receiving upsetting medical news and to think about choosing between additional chemotherapy trials or discontinuing cancer treatment and enroll in hospice care.

The studies demonstrated that framing the physician’s advice to mismatch how the patient perceived the information improved the participant’s evaluation of an initially disliked option.

“Individuals’ preferences and choices are influenced by many factors, and often they have objective grounds, such as financial considerations,” said Fridman.

“At other times, however, preferences can be affected by decision-making biases; for instance, their own positive or negative experiences in the past (availability bias), overestimating the likelihood of positive outcomes (optimism bias), or inaccurate inferences about future states (affective forecasting bias).”

“In our research, we found that in these cases, physicians could use an intervention that helps patients to re-evaluate preferences that were formed by a biasing heuristic,” Fridman said.

As the authors note, this is a study with hypothetical scripts. Their next step is to test the proposed intervention in clinical settings to study if it helps patients to make better choices.

“The ultimate goal of the proposed intervention is to ensure that patients make a thoughtful decision that helps them to reach their long-term goals,” Fridman said.

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology/EurekAlert

Messages That Don’t “Fit” May Enable Better Medical Choices

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Messages That Don’t “Fit” May Enable Better Medical Choices. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 27 Jun 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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