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Intentions in critical clinical settings: a study of medical students' perceptions
  1. Niklas Juth,
  2. Therése Tillberg,
  3. Niels Lynöe
  1. Karolinska institutet, Stockholm Centre for Healthcare Ethics (CHE), Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Niklas Juth, Stockholm Centre for Healthcare Ethics, LIME, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden; niklas.juth{at}


The aim of this pilot study was to develop a realistic clinical case for identifying Knobe's asymmetric effect, ie, the tendency to ascribe intentions to a larger extent when an act is considered wrong, as well as to compare medical students at the beginning and end of their curriculum. A vignette about a critically ill 72-year-old patient in need of an operation was used, with two different outcomes: the patient dies or the patient recovers. Approximately half of the students received the ‘recovery case’ and half the ‘death case’. The questions asked were whether it was right to perform the risky operation and whether the head of the clinic brought about the patient's death/recovery intentionally. Among students in their first term an asymmetry in response pattern was identified. This asymmetry was not found among students in their final term. The difference between term 1 and term 11 students is believed to be due to the socialisation of medical students towards clinical reasoning regarding the moral role of intentions. Although no Knobe effect could be detected among term 11 students, a related adaptation effect was detected, indicating that students at the end of their medical school also tend to adapt their ascription of intentions to their moral evaluation of the act. By using clinically relevant cases a new effect has thus been identified that might be useful when investigating experienced clinicians and their views on intentions. The cases and effect merit further investigation.

  • Bioethical issues
  • education for healthcare professionals
  • experimental philosophy
  • intention
  • medical education
  • philosophy of medicine

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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