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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2021 Abstracts

Affective Indifference or Ineffective Indifference: Medical School, Attachment, & Controlled Emotional Involvement

Presenters: Sarah Prince, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology
Authors: Michael J. Guynn, Abbi Covington, Dannelle Larsen-Rife
Faculty Advisor: Dannelle Larsen-Rife, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology
Institution: Dixie State University

Medical students have rigorous coursework and spend long hours training to become professionals. The intense experiences medical students are exposed to cause stress and anxiety. High levels of stress may be detrimental to their family relationships. In addition, medical students are trained to develop affective neutrality, the cold, separated, persona of authority that cannot be breached by the trauma of the medical world. Learned affective neutrality may appear to be calm, controlled, and professional, however, when it is the primary mode of responding as a romantic partner or parent it may result in emotional neglect. Attachment is the relationship that develops based upon whether or not the parent meets the needs of the child. This relationship extends to all future relationships. Secure attachment develops from the caregiver being attuned and sensitive to the child’s needs. This is not possible when the caregiver is working long hours and is emotionally unavailable. Insecure attachment is likely to result. Rather than affective neutrality, medical students and professionals should adopt controlled emotional involvement. Controlled emotional involvement is the ability to relate to others’ experiences and process emotions while maintaining boundaries that prevent unprofessional over-involvement. Learning about attachment theory and controlled emotional involvement offers an alternative to affective neutrality in the medical setting and would increase emotional availability for their spouse and children. This social policy paper argues implementing a new approach to emotion regulation in medical school will aid students, their patients, and their families, as well as providing a means to secure their own attachment. Medical students and physicians can improve their experience as well as their professional and personal relationships during that time and for generations to come.