It Must be Awful for Them: Healthy People Overlook Disease Variability in Quality of Life Judgments
Society for Judgment & Decision Making
Judgment and Decision Making
When survey respondents rate the quality of life (QoL) associated with a health condition, they must not only evaluate the health condition itself, but must also interpret the meaning of the rating scale in order to assign a specific value. The way that respondents approach this task depends on subjective interpretations, resulting in inconsistent results across populations and tasks. In particular, patients and non-patients often give very different ratings to health conditions, a discrepancy that raises questions about the objectivity of either groups' evaluations. In this study, we found that the perspective of the raters (i.e., their own current health relative to the health conditions they rated) influences the way they distinguish between different health states that vary in severity. Consistent with prospect theory, a mild and a severe lung disease scenario were rated quite differently by lung disease patients whose own health falls between the two scenarios, whereas healthy non-patients, whose own health was better than both scenarios, rated the two scenarios as much more similar. In addition, we found that the context of the rating task influences the way participants distinguish between mild and severe scenarios. Both patients and non-patients gave less distinct ratings to the two scenarios when each were presented in isolation than when they were presented alongside other scenarios that provided contextual information about the possible range of severity for lung disease. These results raise continuing concerns about the reliability and validity of subjective QoL ratings, as these ratings are highly sensitive to differences between respondent groups and the particulars of the rating task.