Success-chasing may not only lead doctors to make flawed decisions in diagnosing and treating patients, but it can also distort the thinking of other high-stakes decision makers, such as military and political strategists, stock market investors, and venture capitalists. An fMRI study of physicians suggests that physicians seen to pay most attention to failures as well as successes become more adept at deciding on the correct treatment.
Team member Jonathan Downar told me that there is an upside to the study: “We may be able to train our young physicians to avoid success-chasing and confirmation bias by asking themselves [specific, pertinent] questions [about their decisions],” he says. “Most of the applications will be in teaching our physicians to think of alternative hypotheses and remember to orders the tests that would prove their diagnostic hunches wrong, not just the tests that would confirm their hunches,” he told us. “Ultimately, these are just the basic principles of hypothesis-testing, and I think formal instruction in these principles in medical school would probably be helpful.”
He adds that future studies are now being planned by his colleagues to look the effects of training physicians to get better at these kinds of tasks, either through a series of lessons or through neural feedback from real-time fMRI performed while the physician does the task.
More in this week’s SpectroscopyNOW – MRI.
Downar, J., Bhatt, M., & Montague, P. (2011). Neural Correlates of Effective Learning in Experienced Medical Decision-Makers PLoS ONE, 6 (11) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027768