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Clinical ethics
Ascribing intentions in clinical decision-making


Background: The intentions of clinicians are widely considered to be relevant to the ethical assessment of their actions. A better understanding of the psychological factors that influence the ascription of intentions in clinical practice is important for improving the self-understanding of clinical decision-making and, ultimately, the ethics of clinical care. Drawing on empirical research on intentionality that has been done in other contexts, this is the first study to test whether the “asymmetric effect” of intention ascription is exhibited by respondents when presented with clinical decision-making scenarios.

Objective: To assess how individuals attribute intentions to clinical actors in clinical decision-making scenarios.

Methods: A total of 149 first and second year medical students was randomly assigned to two groups (group A, group B). Subjects in each group read two scenarios and submitted anonymous responses to questions regarding each scenario.

Results: The asymmetric effect was strongly exhibited by the responses given to scenario 2, but it was not exhibited by the responses given to scenario 1.

Conclusion: The present study provided evidence for the view that people’s ascription of intentions to others is influenced by their previous evaluative judgement of the conduct in question.

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