Be careful when you grab the gold


There’s a lot of eye-rolling when you teach theory to college students.

I get it.

Students want to discover the practical matters of communication. Business. Success.

I assure them they’ll thank me later.

Eyes roll.

Recently I heard from a former student confessing he has come to love theory. Today he teaches communication and is completing his PhD.

The student made the link that theory underpins practice.

Lately we’ve been talking in class about human foibles and how we make errors in judgment because of the ways our minds work.

Theory and research are soundly behind the idea that we’re prone to make errors in judgment.

One foible is that our brains recall the most recent event more vividly than earlier-occurring events.

We might remember a more recent lesson rather than the more important one.

Another is wrapping our heads around randomness.

Take for example the probability that you will have a son or daughter–that the chances are 50-50.

My mother and father produced five girls. Each time there was a 50-50 chance the baby would be a girl. Or a boy.

But we make the mistake of thinking the odds change because we’ve already got a house full of girls.

The next one has to be a boy, right?

Truth is, the odds haven’t changed: for the sixth child, odds are still 50-50 that he will be a boy. Or a girl.

Another real-life example emerged recently about how healthcare providers failed to link theory to practice.

When folks signed up for insurance coverage through the affordable care act, they discovered the options were framed as three packages labelled gold, silver and bronze.

Turns out people prefer gold.

And it’s no surprise: we think of gold as better than silver.

But if you read the fine print, you realize the gold insurance option may not be the best for you.

A team of researchers recruited ordinary working-class folks and asked them to answer questions about which option they would prefer, given their health needs and their income.

They presented the information as gold, silver and bronze.

In one experiment they emphasized the monthly payments. In another experiment they emphasized the out-of-pocket payments.

No matter how the information was presented, consumers overwhelmingly opted for the gold plan.

The gold option has the highest monthly payments and lowest co-pay.

The bronze option has the lowest monthly payments but the highest out-of-pocket co-pay.

The researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that the option you choose should depend on your health needs and your income.

Logically speaking, if you’re pretty healthy, you’d be better off with the bronze plan.

But if you have a chronic illness, see doctors frequently, have costly medical procedures and buy a lot of medicines, the gold plan could be better.

Making a mindful decision is tough because you need to weigh all the factors.

But the problem with the labelling of the insurance options is that it inadvertently frames the gold as the best.

In truth the gold is the most expensive but not necessarily the best for you.

Students learn about a concrete example of how theory can help explain decision-making that will make them better practitioners.

They’ll thank me later.



Blog in honor of David Barney


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in affordable care, american indian, communication, education, health insurance, native press, Native Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Be careful when you grab the gold

  1. Jim Conover says:

    You forgot to mention the last one was a boy. Dad


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s