The questions for patients are familiar and standard: Have your symptoms improved? Is the pain from your injury a few months ago better or worse? How would you rate your overall health compared to your last checkup a year ago?
While the questions are common, a Grand Valley psychology expert said research that he and another GVSU colleague recently conducted suggests that people's perceptions of their health changes and status may not match reality due to the workings — and limitations — of the memory.
A key takeaway, said Michael Wolfe, professor of psychology: "Those in the medical field need to calibrate the weight they put on people's assessment of past health. They need to take the answers to those questions with caution."
These types of questions are common both in health care and medical research settings, Wolfe said. Relying on people to recollect past health status from a previous point in time can be problematic.
"Memories are not directly retrieved and often can be inaccurate. You can't go directly into your memory and access memories like files on a computer," he said. "Rather, you construct your past with what is salient or available in the moment."
Wolfe and Todd Williams, associate professor of psychology, studied the responses of patients who had undergone bariatric surgery as part of their research. They recently co-authored a virtual presentation, "Poor Awareness of Health Change Following Bariatric Surgery," at the Conference of the Psychonomic Society.