A new study has found that the greater the patients’ need for medical care, the more likely patients will see their physicians as “empty vessel,” lacking any emotion or personal lives of their own. These patients, however, expect their doctors to be able to empathize with the patients’ emotions and experiences. Findings from the study are published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business designed a six-study series to assess how instrumentality affects patients’ perception of their physicians. The studies showed that when patients were in immediate need of a doctor, they did not view their doctor as a human with emotions though they thought their doctors should empathize and feel the patients’ emotions. Study author Ayelet Fishbach noted that when physicians are treated like objects or machines it can have “negative consequences and lead to burnout.”

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Similar results were seen across all six studies. Patients with a greater need for medical care viewed their physicians with having fewer personal emotions but wanted the physicians to focus on their personal emotions. Fishbach added, “If patients are sensitive to their doctors’ emotions, they could get better care.”

For more information visit ChicagoBooth.edu.