If you think you can diagnose yourself properly by just observing your symptoms, then you may already be overestimating your abilities. According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, people can’t be relied to make a proper deduction of their own condition or that of those close to them. Personal biases simply get in the way.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments to test this theory. They subjected hundreds of university students to check for self-positivity (the underestimation of getting a disease) and self-negativity (the overestimation of developing a problem). The participants were given two important data sets to help them form their medical diagnosis. The first is the base rate which is the standard portfolio of a particular disease while the other is called a case risk, which is like a profile of a person or in some incidents, the participants themselves.


Based on the results, the students were more likely to diagnose correctly when the supposed patient is a stranger. Unfortunately, they were less successful at diagnosing themselves or people close to them. For example, when given a fairly high base rate for HIV and being told that risky behavior was low, the students practiced self-positivity and thought themselves to be less vulnerable. However, when told that the base rate for the same disease was low but that risky behavior was high, the students switched to self-negativity and thought themselves to be more at risk.

In an interview with NBC News, Deng Feng Yan, Marketing PhD candidate and soon to be professor at the University of Texas, San Antonio, says, "We found the effect to be quite strong, as evidenced by the fact that we replicated our findings using different manipulations of psychological distance, and across five different types of health risks."

Watch now

Given the following results, self-treatment becomes quite difficult to trust. If you have a medical concern, you should consult your doctor first before making any quick decisions.

(Photo by Sparlingo via Flickr Creative Commons)

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