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An Exploratory Cross-Sectional Study on the Relationship between Dispositional Mindfulness and Empathy in Undergraduate Medical Students.

  • Ardenghi, Stefano1
  • Rampoldi, Giulia2
  • Pepe, Alessandro2
  • Bani, Marco1
  • Salvarani, Valerio1
  • Strepparava, Maria Grazia1, 3
  • 1 Department of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milano-Bicocca, Monza, Monza and Brianza, Italy. , (Italy)
  • 2 Department of Human Sciences for Education, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Milan, Italy. , (Italy)
  • 3 Clinical Psychology Unit, San Gerardo Hospital, ASST-Monza, Monza, Monza and Brianza, Italy. , (Italy)
Published Article
Teaching and Learning in Medicine
Informa UK (Taylor & Francis)
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2021
DOI: 10.1080/10401334.2020.1813582
PMID: 32870715


There is a growing interest in identifying the psychological variables that promote and sustain empathy in medical students during their studies. Dispositional mindfulness has been shown to be empirically associated with socio-demographic characteristics and empathy among the general population. This research aimed to assess dispositional mindfulness in a sample of undergraduate medical students and to investigate its association with gender, age, and empathy. Hypotheses: It is hypothesized that male medical students would show, on average, higher dispositional mindfulness than their female counterparts, and that older students would exhibit higher dispositional mindfulness than younger ones. Dispositional mindfulness was also expected to be positively associated with the ability to feel compassion for others and to adopt their perspective, and negatively associated with the personal distress in tense interpersonal settings. Method: An exploratory cross-sectional study was conducted. Data were gathered from a large sample (N = 933) of Italian non-meditating second- and fifth-year medical students. Dispositional mindfulness and empathy were assessed using the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, respectively. Gender and age differences in dispositional mindfulness scores were calculated by analyses of variance, whereas hierarchical multiple regression models were used to assess the association between dispositional mindfulness and empathy scores. RESULTS Female medical students were more able to Act with Awareness than males, whereas males had higher levels than females of Describing and Nonreactivity to their feelings. When compared to their older counterparts, younger students scored higher on Observing and lower on Nonreactivity facets. Dispositional mindfulness facets correlated differently with both emotional and cognitive empathy dimensions, beyond the effects of gender and age. Medical students who displayed higher dispositional mindfulness appeared to be less emotionally distressed in tense interpersonal settings and more able to take others' cognitive perspective. Conclusions: The findings support the notion that dispositional mindfulness is related to empathy and may have implications for the design of mindfulness-based training for use in the medical educational setting. Tailored interventions that cultivate specific dispositional mindfulness facets may be implemented along the medical curriculum to prevent the emotional distress in tense interpersonal settings and to sustain the cognitive capability to take others' viewpoints among medical students.

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