Does having to pursue information affect how we value it?

BACKGROUND:

The authors tested whether clinicians make different decisions if they pursue information than if they receive the same information from the start.

METHODS:

Three groups of clinicians participated (N=1206): dialysis nurses (n=171), practicing urologists (n=461), and academic physicians (n=574). Surveys were sent to each group containing medical scenarios formulated in 1 of 2 versions. The simple version of each scenario presented a choice between 2 options. The search version presented the same choice but only after some information had been missing and subsequently obtained. The 2 versions otherwise contained identical data and were randomly assigned.

RESULTS:

In one scenario involving a personal choice about kidney donation, more dialysis nurses were willing to donate when they first decided to be tested for compatibility and were found suitable than when theyknew they were suitable from the start (65% vs. 44%, P= 0.007). Similar discrepancies were found in decisions made by practicing urologists concerning surgery for a patient with prostate cancer and in decisions of academic physicians considering emergency management for a patient with acute chest pain.

CONCLUSIONS:

The pursuit of information can increase its salience and cause clinicians to assign more importance to the information than if the same information was immediately available. An awareness of this cognitive bias may lead to improved decision making in difficult medical situations.

Source: “The beguiling pursuit of more information.” from Med Decis Making. 2001 Sep-Oct;21(5):376-81.

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