Objective: To review the theory, research evidence and ethical implications regarding "whole mind" and "shared mind" in clinical practice in the context of chronic and serious illnesses.
Methods: Selective critical review of the intersection of classical and naturalistic decision-making theories, cognitive neuroscience, communication research and ethics as they apply to decision-making and autonomy.
Results: Decision-making involves analytic thinking as well as affect and intuition ("whole mind") and sharing cognitive and affective schemas of two or more individuals ("shared mind"). Social relationships can help processing of complex information that otherwise would overwhelm individuals' cognitive capacities.
Conclusions: Medical decision-making research, teaching and practice should consider both analytic and non-analytic cognitive processes. Further, research should consider that decisions emerge not only from the individual perspectives of patients, their families and clinicians, but also the perspectives that emerge from the interactions among them. Social interactions have the potential to enhance individual autonomy, as well as to promote relational autonomy based on shared frames of reference.
Practice implications: Shared mind has the potential to result in wiser decisions, greater autonomy and self-determination; yet, clinicians and patients should be vigilant for the potential of hierarchical relationships to foster coercion or silencing of the patient's voice.
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