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The influence of context on residents’ evaluations: effects of priming on clinical judgment and affect

Abstract

Different lines of research have suggested that context is important in acting and learning in the clinical workplace. It is not clear how contextual information influences residents’ constructions of the situations in which they participate. The category accessibility paradigm from social psychology appears to offer an interesting perspective for studying this topic. We explored the effect of activating medically irrelevant mental concepts in one context, so-called ‘priming’, on residents’ interpretations as reflected in their judgments in another, work-related context. Obstetric-gynecologic residents participated in two unrelated-tasks experiments. In the first experiment residents were asked to indicate affect about a change in a routine procedure after performing an ostensibly unrelated ‘priming’ task which activated the concept of either ineffective coping or effective coping. The second experiment concerned residents’ patient management decisions in a menorrhagia case after ‘priming’ with either action or holding off. Contextually activated mental concepts lead to divergent affective and cognitive evaluations in a subsequent medical context. Residents are not aware of this effect. The strength of the effect varies with residents’ level of experience. Context influences residents’ constructions of a work-related situation by activating mental concepts which in turn affect how residents experience situations. Level of experience appears to play a mediating role in this process.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Susanne van Pruissen, Anke Nel van Vorstenbosch-Niezen, and Mereke Gorsira for their help with this research project. Moreover, we would like to express gratitude to all the residents who participated in this study.

Ethical approval: Since the participants in our study were not patients, according to Dutch law the study is exempt from ethical approval by a medical ethics committee.

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Correspondence to P. W. Teunissen.

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Teunissen, P.W., Stapel, D.A., Scheele, F. et al. The influence of context on residents’ evaluations: effects of priming on clinical judgment and affect. Adv in Health Sci Educ 14, 23–41 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-007-9082-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-007-9082-2

Keywords

  • Category accessibility
  • Context
  • Graduate medical education
  • Learning, cognitive and affective dimensions
  • Learning processes
  • Priming
  • Quantitative research methods
  • Work-based learning