Let's Talk… Self-confidence with Nicola Roberts
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Researchers from the University of Vienna have found that older people who are overconfident about their health don’t go to the doctor as regularly as they should, leading to problems as medical conditions go undiagnosed. Their research also revealed the opposite is true for less confident people – who attend the doctors far too often. The study, which was published in The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, says: “Biased perception of one’s own ability is a hallmark of human nature.
“Comparing objective performance measures and their self-reported equivalents from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, we find that individuals who overestimate their health visit the doctor 17 percent less often than individuals who correctly assess their health, which is crucial for preventive care such as screenings.
“In contrast, individuals who underestimate their health visit the doctor more often (21.4 percent more).
“Effects are similar for dentist visits, but we find no effects on hospital stays.”
The research also found that overconfidence was linked to taking risks – which could further affect someone’s health.
This included drinking more alcohol, having more accidents, not sleeping enough and eating unhealthily.
The survey on which the findings were based involved more than 80,000 Europeans aged 50 and over, between 2006 and 2013.
Participants were asked to assess their own health including one test where they were asked if they have trouble getting up from chairs after sitting for long periods.
Subjects were then asked to physically get up from a chair to see if they had been overestimating, underestimating, or correctly assessing their health.
Most people correctly assessed their health (79 percent), while 11 percent overestimated and 10 percent underestimated.
The research team believe the results could improve the running of healthcare systems in the future, stating they are “informative for policy making”.
They conclude: “First, addressing rising health expenditures has been a top priority on policymakers’ agenda in many countries.
“Excessive hospital admissions use more than 37 million bed days across the European Union every year, significantly increasing public expenditures.
“Second, if individuals’ own perception of health is what drives healthcare demand beyond actual health and other socioeconomic characteristics, then equipping them through personalised or public health campaigns with the necessary tools and information to accurately assess their health and determine when to seek healthcare is perhaps a valuable long-term strategy for reducing unnecessary healthcare use.
“Identifying patients with health misperception and reducing unnecessary visits to the doctor can have important implications for the effectiveness of such rationing mechanisms.
“Not only will they free up physician capacity, but they can also directly ensure timely care for other patients who are in need of urgent intervention.”
The report adds: “Finally, the study also relates to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis for what concerns individuals underestimation of risk of contracting the disease, overestimation of own immunity levels, and adaptive behaviour.
“Identifying characteristics of persons over- and underestimating such risks can provide valuable insights for public health campaigns.”
The work built on previous research that found individual health perceptions can vary depending on age, nationality, and education.
It was found that older people tend to overestimate their health compared to younger adults.
Geographical differences were also established, with people living in southern Europe tending to overestimate their health compared to people in central and eastern Europe.
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