ALLENTOWN, PA (CNBNewsnet)-- This past year, Michael Silverstein '18, a psychology major from Medford, N.J., faced a tough situation. Doctors feared his father had cancer. As his family awaited test results, his father began weighing the treatment options he could pursue if the news was bad. Thankfully, it wasn't-but the ordeal got Michael, a psychology major, thinking about the fraught process of making a decision when your own health is on the line.
"There's a lot of literature on doctors' decision making, but not a lot on patients'," says Michael. "I got really interested in people's willingness to undergo treatment."
Michael had planned to do summer research regardless - he hopes to pursue his Ph.D. after graduation - and this experience inspired his topic: how individuals make medical decisions. With help from his academic advisor, Jeff Rudski, professor and chair of the psychology department, and his summer research advisor, Laura Edelman, professor of psychology, he designed an experiment.
The project looked at subjects' willingness to take corticosteroids, a class of drug meant to suppress inflammation that, like most drugs, may cause unpleasant side effects. Michael varied the amount of background information subjects received on the drug, then either shared with them a positive anecdote about the drug's effects, a negative one or no anecdote at all. Subjects then were given results-related "base rates:" One set painted the drug's effects in a positive light, while the other skewed more negative. The subjects who heard the positive anecdote trusted it more than the negative base rates, while those who heard the negative anecdote were more likely to also trust the negative base rates.
"The anecdotal evidence represented one person and thus one data point, while the base rate information represented, as far as the participants knew, 298 people," Michael says. "It is interesting how one data point, when given as a story, can change how much people view the other data's meaning and incorporate it into their decisions."
Research like Michael's helps us learn how to help people become better consumers of medical information, Edelman says.
"I can have conversations with professionals in the field about factors that affect medical decision making, and it's really useful for the interview process I'm going to have to go through," Michael says. "Because Muhlenberg is solely undergrad, it gives undergraduates the opportunity to do research that grad students would be doing at larger institutions. You can't put a price tag on that experience."
Read more about Michael's research and undergrad opportunites at Muhlenberg News.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential, liberal arts college located in Allentown, Pa., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences as well as selected pre-professional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports.