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Study Examines Patient Reactions To Physician-Inspired Guilt And Shame

Update Date: Jan 18, 2014 03:54 PM EST

Chances are that for at least once you might have left a doctor's office feeling ashamed and guilty. Some of us might take that positively while others might not ever visit that doctor again. The reason behind the disparity among such behaviors of patients is little explained.

However, a new study examines the consequences of feelings that are inspired by physicians. The study explores the reasons behind patients' reaction to the shame- or guilt-provoking experience that promotes health as well as avoidances. 

Researchers at  UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences considered more than 900 subjects for the study out of which a quarter of them admitted of having an ashamed encounter with a physician. 

"More than one-third of all deaths in the United States are still essentially preventable and largely due to unhealthy patient behavior," wrote researchers. 

Previously in an another research, it was observed that more than 50 percent of participants had an experience of shame based on something physicians said. 

"People who report a more positive reaction focus in on a bad act not a bad self," said Christine Harris, professor of psychology in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences and the lead researcher of the study, in a press release. "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."

Researchers also noted that women more often experienced shame or guilt during doctors' visit, compared to men. 

"To improve outcomes," Harris added, "doctors need to try to keep the conversation focused on the behavior (not the person) and avoid, as much as possible, being perceived as intentionally inflicting shame or guilt."

The study has been published in the journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 

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