Posts tagged with "Empathy"

Five takeaways from Joe Biden’s CNN Town Hall

February 18, 2021

President Joe Biden took part in his first town hall since entering the White House on February16 —answering questions from CNN’s Anderson Cooper (and audience members) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

CNN’s Editor-at-Large Chris Cillizza watched—and provided the following takeaways on the president’s performance:

  1. A hard deadline on vaccinations: Less than five minutes into the broadcasst, Biden made a promise that will be the big new—not just today, but for months to come: He said that “by the end of July, we’ll have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American.” That pledge sets the clock ticking on Biden and his administration’s efforts to ensure that every single person in America who wants a vaccine will have one by the end of July. Biden also said he expected to have 400 million doses by the end of May. And, Cillizza noted, he set another goal: That things would be largely back to normal in the United States by next Christmas.) It’s worth noting that this is a change from Biden’s previous pledge from last month that everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by the “spring.”  Biden laid the blame for the need to push that timeline at the feet of the Trump Administration, insisting that his predecessor “wasted so much time” in dealing with the virus.
  1. Clearing up the school reopening question: Biden’s press shop got into a bit of hot water over the past week by claiming that schools opening one day a week would count toward his pledge to open the majority of schools within his first 100 days in office. Critics, rightly, pointed out that it appeared as a bit of a cop-out, since most parents, desperate after almost a year of virtual learning, don’t see one day of school a week as anything close to normal. Biden blamed the confusion on a “mistake in communication,” insisting that he believes that a majority of students from kindergarten to 8th grade would be back in school— with “many” of them going five days a week, he told CNN.
  2. Biden as comforter-in-chief: Perhaps the biggest contrast between Biden and the man he replaced in office is empathy, CNN’s Cillizza says. Former President Donald Trump had none; Biden is all empathy, wearing his heart on his sleeve. The town hall format played to Biden’s strength in that regard—and provided a stark reminder of just how radically different Trump was from anyone who came before (or after) him in the office. Biden told several questioners to talk to him after the town hall in order to help deal with their specific problems. And in one striking exchange, a mother with her eight-year-old daughter stood up and asked Biden what to tell kids who are worried about getting COVID and dying. “Don’t be scared, honey,” the President told the little girl, speaking directly to her as he told her that kids don’t usually get the coronavirus, and, when they do, they very rarely pass it on. It was a grace note—and one that would have been unimaginable during Trump’s presidency.
  3. The end of (talking about) Trump: Biden did his best not to mention the former President by name. (Biden’s preferred way to name Trump without naming him was to refer to the 45th President as “the former guy.”) When asked direct questions about Trump—on his impeachment, on his meddling in the Justice Department—Biden was even more blunt about his views on the man he beat last November. “I’m tired of talking about Donald Trump,” Biden said at one point. At another, he said this: “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people.” (That line drew applause from the socially distanced audience.) What Biden clearly believes is that the best way to deal with Trump is to rob him of the media oxygen he so badly craves. The less Biden talks about Trump, the less attention Trump gets. It’s a solid theory—especially when you consider that Trump has been de-platformed from Twitter and Facebook.
  4. A radical view on polarization: Despite study after study that shows that both Congress and the nation as a whole are more deeply divided along party lines than ever before, Biden insisted that we’re not. “The nation is not divided,” he argued. “You have fringes on both ends.” Er, OK. I know that Biden believes that things will return to normal the longer we get from Trump being president—and that he is uniquely situated to make bipartisanship a thing again. He campaigned on it. And he believes he won, at least in part, on that message. Maybe! But there’s very, very little evidence so far in his term—and yes, of course it’s early!— that suggests the Republican Party’s elected officials are ready to renounce their Trump-y ways, opines Cizzilla. And there’s even less evidence that the GOP base wants anything other than Trump. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier on Tuesday showed that 75% of Republicans want Trump to play a “prominent” role in the party.

Research contact: @CNN

Cold comfort: Incoming medical students should be tested for empathy, study says

August 5, 2019

We’ve all been there—especially the women among our readers: Sitting in a doctor’s office and explaining our symptoms to a medical professional who is completely dismissive, disinterested, and in disbelief.

Worse yet is the practitioner who blames the patient for the condition—and lets her (or him) know about it through insolent or disdainful body language and comments.

Heather Cianciolo says she can tell within minutes if she’s going to like a doctor. “Ten minutes into a doctor’s appointment and I know if it’s going to be a waste of my time,” she said. “It’s a warning sign if someone doesn’t come in and ask me about me—{but rather] just starts talking at me.

“And it happens a lot,” she told The Chicago Tribune for a recent story.

The 46-year-old Oak Park, Illinois, woman—who has long suffered from migraine headaches— said she had to “go through” several specialists who didn’t listen to her before finding one she loves who is now her primary care physician.

“She listens and then she will explain her thinking. She expresses an interest in what’s happening,” Cianciolo said. “If you’re not going to take the time to answer my questions, why would I entrust my health care to you?”

Experts say the ability for doctors to build a rapport with their patients helps build trust and, in turn, improves patient outcomes.

In fact, Mohammadreza Hojat—a research professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who recently designed a questionnaire for  more than 16,000 students of osteopathic medicine—suggests that a norm-level of empathy could (and should) be required for all incoming medical students nationwide, according to the report by the Tribune.

Once a norm-level is established, Dr. Hojat suggests, medical schools should use the data to assess for empathy, alongside academic measures like college transcripts and MCAT scores, when considering medical school applicants.

 “There are two components of medicine. One component is the science of medicine and one component is the art of medicine,” Dr. Hojat told the Tribune. “When it comes to art of medicine, it is about interpersonal relationships and empathy, and we have no method in place” to measure that in medical students’ applicants.

Although empathy can be taught, Hojat said, students who already come to medical school with a strong sense of empathy will make better doctors. And he noted that, although the study focused on students of osteopathic medicine, the tool should be used by traditional medical schools.

Dr. John Prescott, chief academic officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges, said in a statement that “humanism and empathy are critical qualities required of tomorrow’s physicians.” But the statement also claimed that medical schools already look at a “holistic review of applicants … which looks beyond grades and test scores.”

And Jean Decety, a University of Chicago neuroscientist who studies empathy, told the news outlet that, although he hadn’t read the study, his work has shown that empathy only is important for “certain types of physicians.”

In fact, he said, some students will go into specialties that don’t require strong interpersonal skills—for example, radiologists who mostly read images, or surgeons who require excellent technical skills but not necessarily a lot of empathy.

“That’s what you want from your surgeon,” he said.

The study was published July 25 in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

All shook up: A dog feels its owner’s stress

June 7, 2019

Dogs don’t just love riding in cars: they come along on our emotional journeys, too. In fact, the levels of stress in dogs correlates with the stress of their owners, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden,  published on June 6 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Previous work has shown that individuals of the same species can mirror each other’s emotional states. There is, for example, a correlation between long-term stress in children and in their mothers.

But scientists also have speculated whether different species also can reflect each other’s tension—such as humans and dogs.  To answer that question, the Swedish researchers tracked stress levels over several months by measuring the concentration of a stress hormone, cortisol, in a few centimeters of hair from the dog and from its owner.

“We found that the levels of long-term cortisol in the dog and its owner were synchronized, such that owners with high cortisol levels have dogs with high cortisol levels, while owners with low cortisol levels have dogs with low levels,” says Ann-Sofie Sundman of the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM) at LiU, as well as principal author of the study and newly promoted doctor of Ethology.

The study examined 25 border collies and 33 Shetland sheepdogs—all of them, owned by women. The owners and the dogs provided hair samples on two occasions, a few months apart.

Since physical activity can increase cortisol levels, the researchers also wanted to compare companion dogs with dogs that competed in obedience or agility. The physical activity levels of the dogs were therefore recorded for a week using an activity collar.

Previous research has shown that levels of short-term cortisol in saliva rise in a synchronous manner in both the dog and its owner when they compete together. The study presented here, in contrast, found that physical activity in dogs does not affect the long-term cortisol in their hair. On the other hand, the stress level of competing dogs seems to be linked more strongly with that of the owner. The scientists speculate that this may be associated with a higher degree of active interaction between the owner and the dog when they train and compete together.

The dog owners were also asked to complete two validated questionnaires related to their own and their dog’s personality. The researchers investigated whether stress levels are correlated with personality traits.

Surprisingly enough, we found no major effect of the dog’s personality on long-term stress. The personality of the owner, on the other hand, had a strong effect. This has led us to suggest that the dog mirrors its owner’s stress,” says senior lecturer Lina Roth, also at IFM, and principal investigator for the study.

The result suggests that the match between an owner and a dog affects the dog’s stress level. Further studies are, however, needed before we can draw any conclusions about the cause of the correlation. The researchers are now planning to study other breeds. Both the border collie and the Shetland sheepdog are herding dogs, which have been bred to collaborate well with humans and respond accurately and quickly to signals.

The research group is planning to investigate whether a similar synchronization takes place between dogs and humans in, for example, hunting dogs, which have been trained to be independent. Another line of research will look at whether the sex of the owner plays a role.

“If we learn more about how different types of dog are influenced by humans, it will be possible to match dog and owner in a way that is better for both, from a stress-management point of view. It may be that certain breeds are not so deeply affected if their owner has a high stress level,” says Lina Roth.

Research contact: @liu_universitet

Just you wait: How to curb impatience

November 13, 2018

A woman in front of you on the checkout line actually is writing a check and digging in her bag for the required IDs. You clench your jaw. A driver stopped at the entrance to the parking garage cannot dislodge a ticket from the machine. You check your watch and hit your horn. A colleague is at the photocopier, carefully removing and replacing paper clips from documents, as she plows through large piles of materials. You consider asking if you can just cut in front for one image.

If these scenarios seems familiar, you are not alone. Impatience has reached epidemic proportions in America and we see signs of it everywhere—as bad manners, road rage, parking lot meltdowns, and more.

According to a November 5 report by The New York Times, patience is “the ability to keep calm in the face of disappointment, distress or suffering.”

Easier said than done, we know. But if you can master the skill, you’ll be rewarded with a variety of positive health outcomes, such as reducing depression and other negative emotions.

Researchers also have concluded, the Times reports, that patient people exhibit more “prosocial” behaviors—including empathy—and are more likely to display generosity and compassion.

A study conducted in 2012 by Sarah Schnitker—who was, at that time, an associate professor in the Thrive Center for Human Development at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California—identified three situations in which subject expressed patience: 1. Interpersonal, which is maintaining calm when dealing with someone who is upset, angry, or being a pest. 2. Life hardships, which is finding the silver lining after a serious setback. 3. Daily hassles, which is suppressing annoyance at delays or anything irritating that would inspire a snarky tweet.

However, even if none of these is in your own personal repertory yet; the good news, the Times reported, is that same study found that, even if you’re not a particularly patient person today, there’s still hope you can be a more patient person tomorrow.

So if you find yourself getting exasperated more than you’d like, here are ways to keep those testy impulses in check:

  • Identify your trigger(s): Figure out which situations set you off — careless drivers, technological glitches, slow-moving cashiers,— and you’re already on your way to taking control.
  • Interrupt the cycle and evaluate the risk: The idea is to take a step back from the situation and try to look at it objectively. Are you really in such a rush? What’s the actual consequence of standing in line another 10 minutes or restarting a finicky device? Do any of these outcomes constitute a life-or-death threat? The answer is almost always “no.”
  • Reframe the experience and connect it to a larger story: Are you annoyed with the coworker at the photocopy machine? Instead of dwelling on your irritation, you could think about the times when you have been the one who has frustrated others.

Another strategy recommended by Schnitker in an interview with the Times is to focus on why and how patience is integral to your values. “For instance,” she said, “if I were talking to a parent who is struggling with their kid, I’d say, ‘Well, first, let’s think about the really big picture: Why is being a parent an important role to you? What does that mean in your life?’”

Thinking about how patience ties into your larger sense of integrity and poise “will make it a whole lot easier to stick with practicing patience on a daily basis and building up those skills,” she added.

The most common mistake people make is thinking sheer will can turn them into a more patient person,  Schnitker said. If you do that, she cautions, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Just as marathon runners don’t run a marathon on their first day of hitting the trails, people who are serious about cultivating patience shouldn’t expect immediate results.“You want to train, not try, for patience,” she said. “It’s important to do it habitually.”

Finally, recognizing your own triggers may help you to make remedial lifestyle changes. For example, if you detest being stuck in traffic, leave for appointments earlier. If you abhor crowded grocery stores, run your errands at off-hours.

Research contact: @AnnaGoldfarb