Micro-effects of language on risk perception in drug prescribing behavior.

H. J. Bursztajn, B. Chanowitz, T. G. Gutheil and R. M. Hamm,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law 20(1): 59-66, 1992.
The decision to prescribe neuroleptics for the treatment of psychosis involves a potentially tragic choice between, on the one hand, a probability of psychosis and a probability of side effects, such as tardive dyskinesia, on the other. In an experimental paradigm, we examined this decision process. We hypothesized that linguistic factors considered irrelevant under classical formulations of individual choice behavior would have a significant effect on this decision. All subjects were presented with a case vignette involving a potentially psychotic patient. Subjects were then asked what probability of tardive dyskinesia they would either "accept" or "risk" in order to prevent psychotic decompensation. In addition this factor was crossed with a contextual factor that varied the patient's age. The effect of "risk" versus "accept" language was evident in significantly different patterns of decision making across age groups. The data have important implications for clinical decision making, the elicitation of informed consent, and the directions that the courts have taken in malpractice and patient's rights cases.