Tracking medical student emotionality in relation to whole body dissection and donation

Clin Anat. 2021 Jan;34(1):128-142. doi: 10.1002/ca.23676. Epub 2020 Sep 23.


Introduction: For students studying anatomy, dissection of the human body can elicit a wide range of intellectual and emotional responses that are subject to change over the duration of a course. The purpose of this study was to determine how overall emotional responses change over time, if there are differences in responses by gender and previous laboratory exposure, and if these responses impact course performance.

Methods: First-year medical students enrolled in the Human Structure and Function course at the University of Vermont, and in the Organ Systems 1, 2, and 3 courses at Morehouse School of Medicine were given a series of four surveys across the first-year curriculum. Data were gathered regarding age, gender, and previous laboratory exposure. Students were asked to rate their level of 15 positive and negative emotions, and their desire to avoid or approach the laboratory and donors. These responses were translated to three measures: (a) a positive response index (PRI), (b) a negative response index (NRI), and (c) an avoid-approach index (AAI). Responses were followed longitudinally and matched with anatomy practical examination grades.

Results: Gender and previous laboratory exposure status were both significantly related to emotional responses at different points throughout the year, and unique patterns of responses across the year emerged within each group. Higher PRI and AAI were positively correlated with some practical examination scores.

Conclusions: Data suggest that gender and previous laboratory exposure status influence emotional responses to dissection, and that these responses may have an effect on course performance.

Keywords: anatomy; body donation; emotion; medical education.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anatomy / education*
  • Cadaver
  • Curriculum
  • Dissection / education*
  • Dissection / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Young Adult