There are a lot of smart people working in health care – and that’s precisely the problem. People with deep conviction about what they know are blessedly crucial in an emergency room, but aren’t terribly good about seeing things through a different lense when it comes to change. At least that’s what their know-it-all peers writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology have found.
Medical professionals, just like the rest of us, have baggage they need to leave at the door. Take away the layers of political persuasion and “skin in the game,” and you still have to deal with a phalanx of cognitive and anchoring biases. With cognitive biases, brains generally make short cuts. After assuming they recognize the issue at hand, they skip the part about actually thinking a problem through. Anchoring bias confounds things as well. We process what’s offered only in relation to our starting point, which limits the scope of thinking.
Short cuts and anchor points are so readily made available by our brains that we cannot seem to stop them. The new study finds that the smarter you are, the larger your blind spot will be. Even if you desperately try to remain vigilant, the authors conclude that you will fail. “If anything,” they write, “a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability. Additional analysis indicated that being free of the bias blind spot does not help a person avoid the actual classic cognitive biases.”
In other words, if we’re going to re-think and re-imagine health care, it would be best not to leave all the thinking to “the experts.”