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The “Empty Vessel” Physician


Although much research examines how physicians perceive their patients, here we study how patients perceive physicians. We propose patients consider their physicians like personally emotionless “empty vessels”: The higher is individuals’ need for care, the less they value physicians’ traits related to their personal lives (e.g., self-focused emotions), but the more they value physicians’ traits related to patients (e.g., patient-focused emotions). In an initial study, participants recalled fewer personal facts (e.g., marital status) about physicians who seemed more important to their health. In subsequent experiments, participants in higher need for care believed physicians have less personal emotions. Although higher need individuals, such as patients in a clinic, perceived their physicians to be personally emotionless, they wanted the clinic to hire physicians who displayed patient-focused emotion. We discuss implications of perceiving physicians as empty vessels for health care.

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