Practicing Medicine with Colleagues: Pitfalls from Social Psychology Science

  • Donald A. RedelmeierEmail author
  • Lee D. Ross


This perspective reviews three pitfalls from psychology science that can distort clinical assessments and contribute to interpersonal conflicts. One pitfall is the illusion that one’s own subjective perceptions or judgments are objective observations or interpretations that reasonable colleagues would share. A second pitfall involves self-serving situational attributions rather than disposition attributions for explaining missteps after things go wrong. A third pitfall is confirmation bias that leads to a perseverance of erroneous beliefs, a tendency to mostly seek supportive colleagues, and a failure to check for dissenting viewpoints. An awareness of these three pitfalls may help clinicians improve patient care when practicing with colleagues.


medical error fallible reasoning judgment and decisions illusion of objectivity situational factors confirmation bias 



We thank the following for helpful comments: Arnie Aberman, Allan Detsky, Andrew Lustig, Barry McLellan, Raffi Rush, Fizza Manzoor, Camille Schull, Gillian Spiegle, and Christopher Yarnell.

Funding Information

This project was supported by the Canada Research Chair in Medical Decision Sciences, the BrightFocus Foundation, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Evaluative Clinical SciencesSunnybrook Research InstituteTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in OntarioTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Centre for Leading Injury Prevention Practice Education & ResearchTorontoCanada
  5. 5.Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, G-151TorontoCanada
  6. 6.Department of PsychologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  7. 7.Stanford Center on International Conflict and NegotiationStanfordUSA

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