Understanding the Links Between Inferring Mental States, Empathy, and Burnout in Medical Contexts

Published: 1 February 2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/tsmh3td2ps.1
Naira Delgado


It is generally accepted that empathy should be the basis of patient care. However, this ideal may be unrealistic if healthcare professionals suffer adverse effects when engaging in empathy. The aim of this study is to explore the effect of inferring mental states and different components of empathy (perspective-taking; empathic concern; personal distress) in burnout dimensions (emotional ex-haustion; depersonalization; personal accomplishment). A total of 184 healthcare professionals participated in the study (23% male, Mage = 44.60; SD = 10.46). We measured participants’ em-pathy, the inference of mental states of patients, and burnout. Correlation analyses showed that inferring mental states was positively associated with perspective-taking and with empathic con-cern, but uncorrelated with personal distress. Furthermore, emotional exhaustion was related to greater levels of personal distress and greater levels of inferences of mental states. Depersonalization was associated with greater levels of personal distress and lower levels of empathic concern. Per-sonal accomplishment was associated with the inference of mental states in patients, lower levels of personal distress, and perspective-taking. These results provide a better understanding of how different components of empathy and mental state inferences may preserve or promote healthcare professionals’ burnout.



Healthcare Research, Mental State, Empathy, Burnout