Stress and Dehumanizing Behaviors of Medical Staff Toward Patients

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2019:1133:97-104. doi: 10.1007/5584_2018_308.


Dehumanization is defined as aggressive behaviors which offend people's dignity. This phenomenon is a serious problem in medicine as it affects interpersonal relationships between medical professionals and patients, patients' well-being, and the capability of following medical recommendations. There are a few factors determining dehumanizing behaviors: infrahumanization, perceiving patients as nonhuman beings, compassion fatigue, and stress. The main goal of this study was to examine the impact of stress on dehumanizing behaviors. A quasi-experimental survey was conducted in a group of 96 nurses. The following psychometric measures were employed in the study: scale of behavioral indicators of patient's dehumanization (SBIPD), mood adjective checklist (UMACL), interpersonal reactivity index (IRI) assessing aspects of empathy, and the Eysenck personality traits (EPQ-R) questionnaires. Comparative inter-group analysis (experimental vs. control) confirmed that stress on the side of medical professionals influenced the acceptance of dehumanization; it particularly influenced the cognitive evaluations of patent dehumanizing behaviors. These evaluations have no relationship to empathy, neuroticism, and psychoticism in the control group. However, moderate correlation occurred between the patent dehumanization and neuroticism in the experimental group. The findings lead to the conclusion that stress experienced in the work setting can have an effect on dehumanizing practices in medicine. One of the best ways to combat dehumanization in medicine is to reduce stress by improving the work conditions.

Keywords: Compassion fatigue; Dehumanization; Empathy; Infrahumanization; Medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Dehumanization*
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Nurses / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace