Do nonpatients underestimate the quality of life associated with chronic health conditions because of a focusing illusion?

Journal Article (Clinical Trial;Journal Article)


A number of studies show that the general public often estimates that the quality of life (QOL) associated with various health conditions is worse than patients say it is. These studies raise the possibility that people overestimate the impact that unfamiliar health conditions will have on their quality of life. One possible reason people overestimate this is because they are susceptible to a focusing illusion--when asked to imagine themselves in unfamiliar circumstances, people overestimate the emotional impact of those features of their life that would change.


The authors surveyed members of the general public to test the hypothesis that their QOL ratings of hypothetical health conditions would be higher (indicating a better quality of life) after thinking about how the health condition would affect a broad range of life domains. Across 3 experiments, the authors varied the health conditions people were asked to consider (either paraplegia, below-the-knee amputation, or partial blindness), the life domains they were asked to consider, the response mode with which they evaluated how each health condition would affect each life domain, whether subjects rated the health condition before and after considering life domains or only after, and whether subjects rated their own current quality of life first.


Across 3 experiments, using 10 different questionnaire versions, only 1 instance was found in which subjects' ratings were significantly higher after thinking about the effect of the health condition on life domains than before, and the magnitude of this increase was small.


It could not be established that a focusing illusion contributes significantly to the discrepancy in QOL ratings of patients and nonpatients. Further research should explore other factors that could contribute to the discrepancy or other ways of testing for the influence of a focusing illusion.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Ubel, PA; Loewenstein, G; Hershey, J; Baron, J; Mohr, T; Asch, DA; Jepson, C

Published Date

  • May 2001

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 21 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 190 - 199

PubMed ID

  • 11386626

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1552-681X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0272-989X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0272989x0102100304


  • eng