Can Health-Care Professionals Learn Emotion Recognition?

Being able to recognize the emotional state of a patient is critical for health care providers. When patients are distressed, angry, confused, or in pain, clinicians must be able to identify these emotions in order to provide the necessary treatment and aid. This is especially essential when clients are nonverbal or incoherent. Individuals with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia may not be able to communicate effectively to clinicians. Therefore, clinicians must rely on their own abilities to correctly assess their clients’ emotional states. Nurses work in nearly every field of health care, from emergency care to psychiatric care. Because they have more client contact than most other health care professionals, their level of emotional recognition is paramount. But until now, no study has examined how well clinical nurses are able to accurately identify emotions.

Henry Minardi, a retired psychiatric nurse for the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust recently conducted a study comparing the level of emotion recognition in three groups of nurses. The first group consisted of 21 mental health care nurse professionals, the second contained 28 nursing institute resident nurses, and the remaining 21 participants were student nurses. Minardi evaluated how accurately the participants were able to ascertain emotions in a sample of nonverbal clients. He found that the institute resident nurses, who were in their third nursing term, were more capable at emotion recognition than the student nurses from the university who were in only their first term. The difference in emotion recognition skills between the professional nurses and resident institute nurses was negligible, suggesting that education plays a significant role in teaching students how to accurately identify emotions exhibited through nonverbal communication.

Minardi noted that another plausible explanation for these findings could be the gender inequality in his sample. There were more women participants in the professional nurse and resident nurse groups than in the university student group. He commented that women may possess a stronger innate ability to identify emotions than men, thus influencing these results. Age is another factor that should be explored in future research. In this study, the university student nurses were an average of 10 years older than the institute nurses, yet they were less capable at accurately assessing emotional states of clients. Until that research is conducted, Minardi believes his study provides clear evidence of one thing. He concluded, “Training can improve the ability of nurses to identify emotions from nonverbal communication.”

Minardi, Henry. (2013). Emotion recognition by mental health professionals and students. Nursing Standard 27.25 (2013): 41-48. Print.

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  • Nelly

    March 26th, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    Being able to know their emotional states is good .But how does it really help?Does it help in treatment or cure? I don’t think so.Merely recognizing their emotional states is not going to provide any benefit to the patients. Or am I missing something here??

  • amanda

    March 27th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    I am a nurse and I am telling you, you sometimes get more information from a patient via body language and facial expressions than you ever do from their verbal feedback
    Someone may be hesitant to say aloud what they are really feeling but you can catch those cues of what they are not saying by how they interact with you and often just by the look on their faces


    March 27th, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    I always have trouble communicating my concerns to the doc. I can only imagine the plight of those that do not even have the option to properly communicate .It would be a major boon for such people to have a doctor who can understand them without them actually saying anything. It is not magic but is surely something that would work like magic for those that are in need.

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