Okay, I know I’m a health writer, but I really don’t like going to the doctor. Part of it is an unshakeable, irrational certainty that they will find something horribly wrong with me that I’d rather not know about, and part of it is a rational certainty that they will find something mildly wrong with me that is my fault and chastise me for it—drinking too much, not exercising enough, whatever.
One should be able to talk to one’s doctor about these things—the aspects of one’s lifestyle that maybe aren’t so great. In 2010, the Surgeon General recommended that physicians talk openly about weight issues with their patients, a reasonable suggestion. But in 2009, a study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that half of the patients surveyed had experienced shame as a result of something a doctor said to them.
In a new study, forthcoming in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, the researchers expand on that work to figure out why people react either positively or negatively to doctor-induced guilt. The initial study saw that 45 percent of people who felt shame made questionable health choices as a result—lying to their doctors, avoiding them, or even quitting treatment with them. But 33 percent saw the shame as a motivator, and tried to improve their health as a result.