Medical Education Research

Female Students Less Confident, More Accurate Than Male Counterparts

March 05, 2015 11:37 am News Staff

Those involved in training medical students -- and indeed medical students themselves -- could benefit from recent research findings that suggest female students have less confidence in their decision-making capabilities than their male counterparts.

[Medical students with professor in classroom studying]

The research(annals.org) -- examined in a short article titled "The Association Between Confidence and Accuracy Among Users of a Mobile Web Platform for Medical Education" -- was published in the March 3 Annals of Internal Medicine. Full content is available to journal subscribers.

The authors noted that previous research suggested it was not uncommon for a physician's diagnostic confidence to exceed his or her accuracy.

"Overconfidence could lead to physicians not asking for help when they need it. Underconfidence may expose patients to defensive medicine," said the researchers.

They also suggested that physicians lacking in confidence could "misrepresent" their true level of knowledge and therefore miss possible opportunities for professional development.

For their research, authors provided 1,021 students -- 617 male and 404 female -- with immediate performance feedback via a mobile web platform specifically created to "help medical students learn by answering questions related to their curricula."

Story Highlights
  • New research suggests that female medical students are less confident but more accurate in responding to test questions than their male counterparts.
  • Overall, women's responses to questions were accurate 61.5 percent of the time compared to an accuracy rate of 60.3 percent for men.
  • Researchers noted that the findings were a reminder that less confidence might not indicate a lack of knowledge and that confidence should not be mistaken for correctness.

The stated objective, according to the researchers was, "To measure medical students' confidence in their answers, compare confidence with accuracy, and examine differences between men and women."

Before answering a question in the mobile application, student participants first chose from a list of three confidence ratings: "I'm sure," "Feeling lucky," or "No clue."

Students answered more than 50 random multiple-choice and true-or-false questions.

Authors reported that women's responses were correct 61.4 percent of time compared to a 60.3 percent rate for men even though the women were less confident about their answers.

For all questions answered,

  • 44 percent of men were sure of their response and they had an accuracy rate of 78.3 percent, while 39.5 percent of women were sure of their answers and they were right 80.5 percent of the time;
  • 42 percent of men chose "Feeling lucky" and they were correct 49.8 percent of the time, while 44.4 percent of women chose the same response but had an accuracy rate of 53.5 percent;
  • 13.6 of men chose "No clue" and were right 32 percent of the time, while 16.1 percent of women also said they had no clue but posted the same 32 percent accuracy rate.

Researchers acknowledged that they could not verify that all users were medical students and that they assumed the sex of the participant based on the user's first name.

"Notwithstanding these limitations, the data are a reminder that less confidence might not indicate a lack of knowledge and that confidence should not be mistaken for correctness," noted the authors in their discussion.

"Insights gained from understanding the relationship between confidence and accuracy in medical trainees may ultimately prove valuable in reducing diagnostic errors caused by overconfidence and sex disparities cause by lack of confidence," they concluded.


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