Washington, DC — To help people make the best decisions about their health, you have to know a lot about them. That means the big stuff, like motivators, goals, lifestyle. But also the weird little stuff that pops up or stands in their way; the kinds of things they may not even be aware of.
It turns out that the weird stuff can be pretty powerful. We’ve collected three of our favorite weird things that paint a really fascinating picture of people and their health.
We have no idea what just happened. Wait, what?
Everyone over 35 years old or so: Do you remember what you were doing when the Challenger exploded? Chances are you think you do, but you really don’t.
Back around that time, a cognitive psychologist named Ulric Neisser was really fascinated by the idea of flashbulb memories—the times when a shocking, emotional event seems to leave a particularly vivid imprint on the mind. The day after the explosion, he gave his entire psychology 101 class a questionnaire about their experience: Where were the students when they heard the news? Whom were they with? What were they doing?
Two and a half years later, they gave those same students the same questionnaire. When Neisser compared the two sets of answers, he found almost no similarities. Maria Konnikova wrote in the New Yorker, “When the psychologists rated the accuracy of the students’ recollections for things like where they were and what they were doing, the average student scored less than three on a scale of seven. A quarter scored zero. But when the students were asked about their confidence levels, with five being the highest, they averaged 4.17. Their memories were vivid, clear—and wrong.”
When Elizabeth Phelps learned about the Challenger study, she devoted her career to understanding emotional memories. She recently published a new study in Nature that shows that emotion can even retroactively effect memory, skewing experiences that have some similarity to the emotional one.
We’re more motivated by the chance of getting money than actually getting money
Researchers wanted to know what would motivate people to practice safer sex in Lesotho, a tiny country in southern Africa, where the rate of HIV infection is very high. They were particularly focused on young people who were very comfortable taking risks.
3,427 volunteers in 29 villages were divided into two groups. Each came in to a clinic every four months to be tested for two curable sexually transmitted infections. One group received small gifts for their compliance. The other received lottery tickets.
After two years, there was a 21.4% reduction in HIV infections in the lottery ticket group compared with the volunteers who got the small gifts.
We’d rather die sooner than take a daily pill. Really: die.
What would you trade to not have to take a pill every day? In a studypublished in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association, researchers from the University of North Carolina and the University of California, San Francisco, asked 1,000 people what they would be willing to give up to avoid taking a daily pill—one without any cost or side effects—to protect heart health. Their answers:
- 38% were willing to gamble some risk of immediate death
- More than 20% said they would pay $1,000 or more; around 3% said they’d pay up to $25,000
- 30% would trade at least a week off their lives, and 8% were willing to give up a full two years