We rely on our doctors to make appropriate decisions for our treatment, but this process can be subject to a variety of potentially conflicting influences. To identify what makes a good decision-maker, a team of researchers, led by Read Montague, PhD, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, tested 35 experienced physicians for their ability to make appropriate treatment choices, and found that the doctors who performed best were those who learned from both their successes and failures, rather than focusing just on the successful outcomes. The results are reported in the Nov. 23 issue of the online journal
The doctors were tested in a series of virtual patient encounters, and the results were measured both in terms of their ability to choose the right treatment for the "patients" and by fMRI, a neuroimaging technique that detects the regions of the brain that are engaged in a particular activity. The fMRI imaging reveals characteristic patterns for the high performers and low performers, providing the evidence that better performance was correlated with increased attention to failed treatments.
"These findings underscore the dangers of disregarding past failures when making high-stakes decisions," said Read Montague, PhD. "'Success-chasing' not only can lead doctors to make flawed decisions in diagnosing and treating patients, but it can also distort the thinking of other high-stakes decision-makers, such as military and political strategists, stock market investors, and venture capitalists."