A critical analysis of neurological theories on empathy in healthcare

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Some employ neurological theories of empathy to train medical students and to explain why care work is emotionally exhausting. I argue, however, that these theories develop conceptual and methodological confusion that creates a reductive and misdirected focus in patient-centered care. Neurological theories on empathy do not help us understand patient-centered care, nor do they help us understand why care work can be exhausting. By discussing examples of care work, I argue that empathic attentiveness to patients is a dialogical ethical response to the whole person and takes place in daily care settings of working, helping, and responding to each other.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-113
Number of pages17
JournalIJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Burnout
  • Care ethics
  • Dementia
  • Dialogue
  • Elderly care
  • Emotion
  • Neuroscience


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