Personality traits are associated with cognitive empathy in medical students but not with its evolution and interventions to improve it

J Psychosom Res. 2021 May:144:110410. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2021.110410. Epub 2021 Feb 26.


Objective: Cognitive empathy might decrease during medical school. Factors associated with its evolution remain poorly understood, as well as whether such factors could moderate the effect of an intervention to preserve cognitive empathy. The aim was to explore the associations between personality traits and both cognitive empathy at baseline and its changes at follow-up. The possible effect of an intervention depended upon personality traits was also examined.

Methods: The cohort consisted of fourth year medical students and the associations between personality traits, using the Short Big Five Inventory, and cognitive empathy changes at 3-month, using the Jefferson Scale of Empathy-Student version (JSE-S), were examined. A randomization in two groups (Balint groups versus no intervention) allowed examining whether the effect of the intervention depended upon personality traits. Linear regressions were adjusted for gender, anticipated specialty choice, parental education, living status, financial insecurity, randomization group and baseline JSE-S.

Results: The cohort included 311 participants from October 2015 to December 2016 at Paris Diderot and Paris Descartes University. At follow-up, there was a JSE-S total score increase of 1.22(SD:9.10) in the intervention group, compared to a decrease of 1.64(SD:10.74) in the other group. Baseline JSE-S was positively associated with Extraversion and Conscientiousness and negatively with Neuroticism. In contrast, we found no associations between baseline personality traits and JSE-S change. There were no interactions between personality traits and randomization group.

Conclusion: Although personality might be linked with cognitive empathy, medical students may benefit from strategies designed for improving cognitive empathy regardless of their personality.

Keywords: Balint group; Cognitive empathy; Medical school; Personality traits.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality / physiology*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data