You probably know that people who spend a lot of time Googling their symptoms and then deciding what kind of cancer they have are hysterical idiots—right? Well, it’s time to add a new category of people to the medically misinformed: people who watch a lot of TV. Specifically, a lot of medical procedural dramas.
A study published in Human Communication Journal has found that people who watch a lot of medical procedurals like ER and Grey’s Anatomy are both misinformed about real public health problems and tend to be more fatalistic about disease outcomes. Researchers drew from data in a survey of 11,555 Americans. Participants were asked how many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, House, E.R., and Strong Medicine they watched in a typical month. They also said how often they read newspapers and watched the news on TV.
They were also presented with fatalistic statements about cancer, such as “It seems like almost everything causes cancer”, and “There are so many recommendations about preventing cancer, it’s hard to know which ones to follow.” They then had to respond to each with how much they agreed on a five-point scale (from strongly agree is strongly disagree). They were also asked to choose the three most pressing health concerns facing the country, closing from a list that included things like health care costs, alcohol, obesity, diabetes, drugs, and cardiovascular disease.
People with a steady diet of medical procedurals were more likely to think of cancer in fatalistic terms than others. Also, they tended to underestimate the importance of problems like cardiovascular disease and cancer in society today, possibly because no one would want to watch Grey’s Anatomy if patients constantly had heart problems due to obesity.
Unfortunately, the study’s authors don’t have any recommendations for how to keep medical procedural junkies from diagnosing everyone’s problems in the office break room, but we recommend you feign a case of sudden onset deafness.