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Validating relationships among attachment, emotional intelligence and clinical communication

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>10/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>Medical Education
Issue number10
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)988-997
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In a previous study, we found that emotional intelligence (EI) mediates the negative influences of Year 1 medical students’ attachment styles on their provider–patient communication (PPC). However, in that study, students were examined on a relatively straightforward PPC skill set and were not assessed on their abilities to elicit relevant clinical information from standardised patients. The influence of these psychological variables in more demanding and realistic clinical scenarios warrants investigation.

This study aimed to validate previous research findings by exploring the mediating effect of EI on the relationship between medical students’ attachment styles and their PPC across an ecologically valid PPC objective structured clinical examination (OSCE).

Year 2 medical students completed measures of attachment (the Experiences in Close Relationships–Short Form [ECR-SF], a 12-item measure which provides attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety dimensional scores) and EI (the Mayer–Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test [MSCEIT], a 141-item measure on the perception, use, understanding and management of emotions), prior to their summative PPC OSCE. Provider–patient communication was assessed using OSCE scores. Structural equation modelling (SEM) was used to validate our earlier model of the relationships between attachment style, EI and PPC.

A total of 296 of 382 (77.5%) students participated. Attachment avoidance was significantly negatively correlated with total EI scores (r = −0.23, p < 0.01); total EI was significantly positively correlated with OSCE scores (r = 0.32, p < 0.01). Parsimonious SEM confirmed that EI mediated the negative influence of attachment avoidance on OSCE scores. It significantly predicted 14% of the variance in OSCE scores, twice as much as the 7% observed in the previous study.

In more demanding and realistic clinical scenarios, EI makes a greater contribution towards effective PPC. Attachment is perceived to be stable from early adulthood, whereas EI can be developed using targeted educational interventions. The validation of this theoretical model of PPC in Year 2 medical students strengthens the potential educational implications of EI.