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Biases In A Clinical Setting

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As each individual has his or her own perceptions and experiences, this may often be the cause quick and improper judgments. As there are several biases that have the ability to affect a mental health professional's judgment, the possibility of a clinician's decision being influenced by his or her perceptions is all too common. This may result in an increase of the risk of making an inaccurate decision. Although no person or clinician is without some sort of bias, by being aware of the many biases, one can limit the ability of leading a mental health professional into making the wrong decision.

As there are many common errors that may occur as a result of cognitive biases, a clinical setting is no different than any other. As a mental health clinician is evaluating a person who has been brought into an emergency psychiatric center, the clinician may over-utilize their past experiences as a basis for his or her diagnosis. Even with the lack of enough information being obtained, a clinician may come to a conclusion and state his or her opinion. By utilizing such a minimal amount of information to assess one's behavior, an inaccurate diagnosis may be the result. One reason that increases the making inaccurate judgments is that mental health professionals tend to utilize heuristics. Heuristics allow us to make quick judgments, invent explanations, and form impressions about people by utilizing our previous experiences as a baseline. (Myers, 2008, p. 90) As memory is influenced by familiarity, a mental health professional may recall the same specific behaviors that they have seen previously in patients and apply such explanations of their behavior to that of the new patient that may have just been brought in for assessment. As a result of utilizing the availability heuristic, a mental health professional may jump to a conclusion with the readily available information and make a quick judgmental error.

As in any clinical setting, countless information is taken in on a daily basis about the clients. With this information the likelihood of a clinician becoming overconfident in their diagnosis becomes a strong possibility. Overconfidence often causes people to overestimate their abilities, which at times can result in improper conclusions and diagnostics. A clinician may feel that their conclusion is correct and no longer seek to obtain further information which may disconfirm their belief. This in turn can lead to the wrong diagnosis and possibly the wrong treatment as well. (Myers, 2008, p. 513)

If a clinician believes that a person has a specific mental disorder, then the clinician may tend to notice and seek that information that has the ability of confirming their belief. With the confirmation bias comes the unwitting tendency to seek that information which has the ability to support one's position as opposed to seeking information that will disconfirm their belief. This bias exists for a few reasons. The main reason is that people do not like to be wrong, as it is much harder to accept than being right. A judgmental error might be taken as a blow to a clinician's self-image. The clinician may seek only that information during an interview by asking specific types of questions such as "leading questions" that solicit only that information which may confirm their initial judgment. As a result, information that may disconfirm such a belief will not be sought after during an interview. When an individual utilizes their memories for information, one tends to retrieve data that would be relevant to their assumption while disregarding data that may disconfirm it. (Stanovich, 2007, p. 60)

A clinician might also stop asking questions once they feel that they have enough information to confirm his or her diagnosis. By consistently finding confirmatory information for their conclusions, this may promote overconfidence in future judgmental situations. A clinician may also believe that there is only a single-cause for the patient's behavior and may seek only that information for confirmation of the patient's behavior. (Stanovich, 2007, p. 145) Also, as additional information is obtained it may be interpreted improperly and result in a confirmation of a previous diagnosis.

As with overconfidence comes the problem of common sense. (Stanovich, 2007, p. 14) As each individual carries their own ideas of what causes specific behaviors in people, individuals as well as clinicians tend to draw upon what they consider to be common sense. A major problem with common sense is that it may lead a clinician to the wrong conclusion. As individuals retrieve information from memory, clinicians tend to retrieve only that information that they feel applies to the given situation while disregarding what is then considered to be irrelevant information. Such irrelevant information should also be taken into consideration as it may disconfirm an initial conclusion and possibly lead to finding another diagnosis.

Another cognitive bias clinicians may face is the fundamental attribution error (or correspondence bias). When mental health professionals look at the behaviors of people, clinicians tend to assume that they behave or are acting in such a manner because this is who they are. A clinician's reasoning for who they are is based upon the person's internal factors, such as motives, abilities, and tendency to act in certain ways. As a clinician readily recognizes these internal factors they associate them to the resulting behaviors. A clinician is really not looking at the big picture in this situation. Mental health professionals tend to focus on the patient him or herself while not seeing the situation the person is in. At this point the clinician tends to fail to recognize the external factors that may be the cause of or provoke such observable behaviors. External or situational factors, such as social factors, may be the cause(s) of certain behaviors but with this bias, mental



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