Volume 39, Issue 4 Pages: 741-956 April 2019
Original Research Article
Reaping the Benefits and Avoiding the Risks: Unrealistic Optimism in the Health Domain
Yaniv Hanoch, Jonathan Rolison, Alexandra M. Freund
First Published: 04 October 2018
People’s perceptions of benefits and risks play a key role in their acceptance or rejection of medical interventions, yet these perceptions may be poorly calibrated. This online study with N = 373 adults aged 19–76 years focused on unrealistic optimism in the health domain. Participants indicated how likely they were to experience benefits and risks associated with medical conditions and completed objective and subjective numeracy scales. Participants exhibited optimistic views about the likelihood of experiencing the benefits and the side effects of treatment options described in the scenarios. Objective and subjective numeracy were not associated with more accurate ratings. Moreover, participants’ underestimation of the risks was significantly greater than their overestimation of the benefits. From an applied perspective, these results suggest that clinicians may need to ensure that patients do not underestimate risks of medical interventions, and that they convey realistic expectations about the benefits that can be obtained with certain procedures.