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Addressing Overconfident Misperceptions in Healthcare

The human mind forms fast impressions.[1] Usually, this works pretty well, but very often it leads to false impressions of both new information and familiar situations—and those misperceptions tend to last.[2] We form, and keep, our misperceptions because we think quickly and don’t do much second-guessing of our own reasoning or memory processes. Therefore, we go into situations with long-standing beliefs and assumptions that are difficult to break.


Humans do indeed get a lot right, but we also systematically get things wrong.


Misperceptions Are Everywhere in Healthcare

Healthcare is no exception. Everyone in the healthcare ecosystem has a human mind susceptible to misperceptions. These misperceptions are powerful forces and deserve careful attention:

  • Products are misperceived: HCPs and patients often underappreciate the true value or even the basic function of products.[3]

  • Human bodies are misperceived: Mechanisms of action, basic biological function, and disease processes are insufficiently understood. [4][5] Their implications are not recognized.

  • Human minds are misperceived: We frequently fail to understand our own emotions and actions, let alone the emotions and actions of others.[6][7]

  • Market forces are misperceived: People have naïve views on the economic and regulatory forces they must navigate.[8]


Misperceptions are Overconfident

Not only are misperceptions common, but they’re also sticky. Our misperceptions tend to be overconfident, meaning that we’re overly certain of our view of the world.[9] We’re overly confident that our priorities are right and that we already know enough about the world to make the right choices.

  • HCPs have overconfident misperceptions: HCPs may not fully appreciate the motivations of many of their patients. They also may not appreciate the value of a drug's different mechanism of action.

  • Patients have overconfident misperceptions: Patients may have inappropriate expectations of what a product, service, or HCP can do. They may also not understand their own as well as others' emotional reactions to risk and challenge.

  • Commercial teams have overconfident misperceptions: Commercial teams may not fully appreciate the nature of the objections they typically face, and they may not understand consumer decision-making processes as well as they could.


Overcoming Overconfident Misperceptions: Stakeholders Need Better Mental Models

Information rarely clarifies a misperception. Misperceptions are usually sticky or entrenched and require more than fact-sharing to overcome. Indeed, we call them "overconfident misperceptions" for this reason. Marketers and healthcare leaders must foster better intuition among stakeholders by building stakeholders' “mental models” (worldviews, beliefs, categories, etc.).


Successfully shifting someone’s mental model is possible, especially when science and craft are brought together.[10][11][12] Behavioral science researchers have developed and tested hundreds of approaches with varying success. Similarly, industry efforts have produced a mixed bag of outcomes. Decades of work in both domains have revealed some best practices for building mental models among stakeholders.


Help stakeholders re-examine the world and their assumptions about it

Stakeholders are often unaware of their own knowledge gaps so they may resist or ignore new information. Often, they hold long-standing, inaccurate assumptions that rarely get tested. They think they already know all of the information they need to know. Marketers and leaders can help them see the world differently and create interest in re-examining old assumptions by implementing behavioral science techniques.


Frame information so that people can see the why and the how

As people take in new information, they attempt to fit the new information into their current worldviews. We have established views of the world and we’re not looking to change those views unless we have to. New information is most effective when it forces us to see a different perspective instantly. Metaphor. Narrative. Visualization. These are key elements in the craft of communication and marketing. Behavioral science shows us why they’re necessary and gives us ideas about how to successfully implement them. Good communication finds ways to create connections to a person's existing view of the world.

Get them asking the right questions.

People often ignore new information presented to them because they weren't looking for new information in the first place.[13] So, the first step for marketers and healthcare leaders is to stimulate curiosity among customers. When people are curious, they start to ask the right questions and are receptive to new information. Giving information is much easier than generating curiosity and interest so that first step is often skipped, but behavioral science can help. If you ask someone to explain how something works, they often realize they don't really know most of the details. This tactic can generate curiosity and prompt a deeper investigation and information search. If you can encourage a skeptic to make a concrete prediction, they will have to think more carefully, consider more information, and they may also take an interest in whether their prediction turns out to be right.[14] Behavioral science has much to say about how and when the human desire for curiosity is activated.[15]


---------------------------------------------------------- [1] Kahneman, D. (2013). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[2] Sloman, S., & Fernbach, P. (2017). The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone. River Head Books.

[3] Lee, J., Cain, C., Young, S., Chockley, N., & Burstin, H. (2005). The Adoption Gap: Health Information Technology In Small Physician Practices. Health Information Technology, 24(5).

[4] Keil, F. C. (2012). Running on Empty? How Folk Science Gets By With Less. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(5), 329-334.

[5] Molteni, M. (2021, May 13). The 60-Year-Old Science Screwup That Helped Covid Kill. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/the-teeny-tiny-scientific-screwup-that-helped-covid-kill/

[6] Hoch, S. J. (1987). Perceived consensus and predictive accuracy: The pros and cons of projection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(2), 221-234.

[7] Harman, G. (1999). Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 99, new series, 315-331.

[8] Paharia, N., Keinan, A., Avery, J., & Schor, J. B. (2010) The Underdog Effect: The Marketing of Disadvantaged and Determination through Brand Biography. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(5), 775-790.

[9] Moore, D. A. (2020). Perfectly Confident: How to Calibrate Your Decisions Wisely. Harper Business.

[10] Kahneman, D. (2013). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[11] Berger, J. (2020). The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind. Simon & Schuster.

[12] Ranney, M. A., & Clark, D. (2016). Climate Change Conceptual Change: Scientific Information Can Transform Attitudes. Topics in Cognitive Science, 8, 49-75.

[13] Grant, A. (2021). Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. Viking.

[14] Tetlock, P. E., & Gardner, D. (2016). Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. Crown.

[15] Chater, N., & Loewenstein, G. (2016). The under-appreciated drive for sense-making. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 126(B), 137-154.