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Behavioral Economics in Action: Physicians Easily Persuaded to Rationalize Industry Gifts

In research by Sunita Sah and and CHIBE Associate Director George Loewenstein published in the September 15, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, three groups of medical residents received different online surveys. Among the physicians who were reminded of the sacrifices made in obtaining their medical education, twice as many deemed industry gifts acceptable in comparison to the control group. Among the medical residents who were exposed to a suggested rationalization for accepting industry gifts, the number who perceived gifts to be acceptable rose to 60.3%, despite the majority reporting that they disagreed with the rationalization. Lowenstein, in comments to the Wall Street Journal Health Blog, noted that, given the documented increases industry gifts have on prescribing and the “remarkable human ability to rationalize when inducements are high enough,” such conflicts of interest ought to be eliminated.