Trust-Your-Doctor: A Simple Heuristic in Need of a Proper Social Environment

Odette Wegwarth and Gerd Gigerenzer

in Simple Heuristics in a Social World

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780195388435
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950089 | DOI:

Series: Evolution and Cognition Series

Trust-Your-Doctor: A Simple Heuristic in Need of a Proper Social Environment

Show Summary Details


Many health decisions appear so complex and inscrutable that laypersons may feel the best solution for making a right decision to be “trust your doctor.” Although applying this heuristic may have been rational in the past when access to information was limited, in today's modern world full of advanced science, statistics, and books, it may not always be rational. Using the dual-mode model of trust (Siegrist, Earle, & Gutscher, 2003), this chapter defines requirements in which the “trust-your-doctor” heuristic would and would not be socially rational and subsequently investigated whether these requirements are met in the current environment of health decision making. This chapter focuses on decisions about cancer screening because these do not involve hurry or pain, and evidence on the effectiveness of several screening tests exist. The investigation makes obvious that mere trust in doctors is often not justified, given that many doctors do not know basic facts about screening and some of their decisions are not free of conflicting interests. When investigating the alternative strategy of patients searching for health information on their own, however, the chapter finds it to be unjustified as well, because health-related pamphlets and web sites designed for patients often provide misleading and unbalanced information about screening. To solve this dilemma, the chapter suggests different ways of how to redesign the health environment so that applying the heuristic “trust-your-doctor” when making health decisions can become socially rational again.

Keywords: heuristic; trust-your-doctor; medical decision making; screening decisions; medical education; understanding of diagnostic tests; knowledge of doctors; defensive medicine; conflict of interests; patient education

Chapter.  14409 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.