WELLNESS
01/22/2014 07:41 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Feel A Little Guilty After That Doctor's Visit? You're Not Alone

Photo by Volanthevist via Getty Images

Half of people feel some level of shame or guilt after visiting the doctor, according to a new study.

The most common subjects people feel shame about? Weight and sex, noted researchers from the University of California, San Diego.

Teeth also seem to be a shameful topic for younger people, according to the study, published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.

The study also looked at how these feelings of guilt and shame spurred behavior after the doctor visit. The researchers found that the resulting behaviors ran the gamut, from avoiding doctors completely, to making a big lifestyle change. The deciding factor in whether a person makes a positive life choice after feeling shame or guilt from a doctor's visit seems to rest on whether the patient condemns just the shameful behavior, or whether the patient condemns him or herself.

"People who report a more positive reaction focus in on a bad act not a bad self," study researcher Christine Harris, a professor of psychology at the university, explained in a statement. "Capacity to change mediates the response. In the simplest terms: Those who say 'I'm a smoker' or 'I'm a fat person' may feel resigned while those who say 'I smoke' or 'I eat too much' also seem to think 'I can stop doing that.'"

For the study, Harris and her colleagues surveyed 491 undergraduate students at UC San Diego about feelings of shame after talking to a doctor. They also surveyed 417 people ages 18 to 75 about guilt and shame after a doctor interaction.

Nearly 25 percent of the undergraduate students reported feeling shame after talking to a doctor, while about half of the 18-to-75-aged group experienced shame after talking to a doctor.

Certain types of medical professionals seemed to be more guilty of shaming patients than others. Of particular note were gynecologists, dentists and family practice doctors, the researchers reported, which likely has to do with the fact that these are the three practitioners whom people see the most.

Women also seemed to experience shame or guilt after seeing a doctor more often than men, though the reasons for this are unclear, researchers noted.

CONVERSATIONS