Exploring the role of mental state inferences and empathy in healthcare professionals

Healthcare professionals are constantly trying to deal with their own personal emotions towards suffering, pain and death, while at the same time they try to provide the best care to their patients. Is it inevitable to suffer negative consequences when displaying empathy towards patients? What are the consequences of inferring mental states and empathy in medical context? Previous research shows contradictory evidence.

Proyecto PID2019-108800RA-I00 financiado por:

On the one hand, some studies have shown that being empathic has a positive impact upon the healthcare professionals, who can be more effective and provide better care, experience more wellbeing and less distress.

On the other hand, other studies suggest that healthcare professionals reduce their empathy and the inference of mental states in patients to regulate their personal emotions toward suffering, death and pain, as well as to improve their performance.

The general objective of this research project is to explore the role of inferring mental states and empathy in medical context from a multi-method approach, to clarify their effects for healthcare professionals.

The general hypothesis is that inferring mental states will generate different consequences for professionals’ wellbeing and performance, depending on the type of task they have to solve, and the component of empathy they display. In addition to the theoretical contributions, the present research project can help to design more efficient empathy-based intervention programmes aimed at minimising potential negative consequences of health-care activity.

This research project follows a multi-method approach that leads to the integration of different techniques and sources of information on the research topic: electrophysiological measures, electromyography activity, and self-reported questionnaires. We integrate lab studies with research in healthcare contexts.