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Cognitive psychology as the science that examines how people reason, formulate judgments, and make decisions can provide a useful approach to problems in diagnosis.

For example a number of common errors have been identified [1]

  • These include*
  • availability heuristic (in which people judge likelihood by how easily examples spring to mind),
  • anchoring heuristic (in which people stick with initial impressions),
  • conformity
  • framing effects (in which people make different decisions depending on how information is presented),
  • obedience (in which people stop thinking when confronted with authority),
  • premature closure (in which several alternatives are not pursued).
  • Stereotyping

Often these cognitive shortcuts are useful but becoming aware of how, when misapplied, they lead to common errors may enable clinicians to make appropriate allowances.


  1. Redelmeier DA.(2005).Improving patient care. The cognitive psychology of missed diagnoses.Ann Intern Med. 2005 Jan 18;142(2):115-20.

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