Diagnostic Error, Overconfidence and Self-Knowledge

8 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2017

Date Written: April 2017


According to the overconfidence hypothesis (OH), physician overconfidence is a major factor contributing to diagnostic error in medicine. This article argues that OH can be read as offering a personal, a sub-personal or a systemic explanation of diagnostic error. It is argued that personal level overconfidence is an “epistemic vice”. The hypothesis that diagnostic errors due to overconfidence can be remedied by increasing physician self-knowledge is shown to be questionable. Some epistemic vices or cognitive biases, including overconfidence, are “stealthy” in the sense that they obstruct their own detection. Even if the barriers to self-knowledge can be overcome, some problematic traits are so deeply entrenched that even well-informed and motivated individuals might be unable to correct them. One such trait is overconfidence. Alternative approaches to “debiasing” are considered and it is argued that overconfidence is blameworthy only if it is understood as a personal level epistemic vice rather than a sub-personal cognitive bias. This paper is published as part of a collection on self-knowledge in and outside of illness.

Suggested Citation

Cassam, Quassim, Diagnostic Error, Overconfidence and Self-Knowledge (April 2017). Palgrave Communications, Vol. 3, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2951662 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/palcomms.2017.25

Quassim Cassam (Contact Author)

University of Warwick ( email )

Gibbet Hill Rd.
Coventry, West Midlands CV4 8UW
United Kingdom

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