Attitude and Decision Making Lab

Psychological Causes of Healthcare Overutilization and Underutilization

Why do people sometimes refuse healthcare that would help them? Why do people sometimes demand healthcare that will not help them? Our research explores both of these questions by identifying the psychological factors that drive healthcare over- and under-utilization. Our research has found that diagnostic labels can change how people think about their symptoms, causing them to feel that they need medications even when those medications provide little or no health benefit. Moreover, highly intuitive yet incorrect beliefs about how a disease works can also drive desire for unnecessary medical interventions.

Affect and emotions can drive both overutilization (e.g. when anxiety about a health threat is high) and underutilization (e.g. when anxiety about the harms of treatment is high). People may often underutilize healthcare such as vaccines because they have heard scary stories about harms. Stories can be vivid and emotionally evocative, and our research has shown that people can be influenced by stories about vaccine harms even when they don’t believe that the vaccine caused the harms that are described.

Read more about vaccination decision making in our article in The Conversation:

The Medical Maximizer-Minimizer Scale. As part of our interest in over- and underutilization, we recently explored the possibility that individuals differ in their general preferences for healthcare seeking. We found that some people are “medical maximizers” who want medical interventions even for minor problems, whereas others are “medical minimizers” who want medical intervention only when absolutely necessary. This underlying preference is distinct from hypochondriasis and is a strong predictor of a variety of healthcare preferences and outcomes.

Read more about Medical Maximizing-Minimizing in our article in The Conversation:

Selected Publications

Last modified: 07-Aug-2017