PSYCHOLOGY: Saving Face

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Science  29 Sep 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5795, pp. 1855b
DOI: 10.1126/science.313.5795.1855b

It is well established that the perception of probabilities can be influenced by how a particular likelihood is framed or anchored, and that the consequences for a patient if the number qualifies a medical prognosis can be real and serious. Bonnefon and Villejoubert propose another context in which the diagnosis of a possible condition is not perceived to reflect its likelihood but instead is taken as warning of a dire outcome. Upon quizzing subjects (recruited by and not representative of psychology students) after a physician had delivered an assessment of possible insomnia or deafness, they found that the condition regarded as more serious (deafness) was judged to be more likely to occur and that the use of the word possible was interpreted as a means of softening the news. In contrast, subjects who adhered to a probabilistic interpretation of the phrasing believed that both conditions were equally likely outcomes, underlining the importance of mutual understanding in physician-patient discussions. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 17, 747 (2006).

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