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Mimicking non-verbal emotional expressions and empathy development in simulated consultations: an experimental feasibility study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Yuefang Zhou, Martin H. Fischer

School/Research organisations


Objective: To explore the feasibility of applying an experimental design to study the relationship between non-verbal emotions and empathy development in simulated consultations.

Method: In video-recorded simulated consultations, twenty clinicians were randomly allocated to either an experimental group (instructed to mimic non-verbal emotions of a simulated patient, SP) or a control group (no such instruction). Baseline empathy scores were obtained before consultation, relational empathy was rated by SP after consultation. Multilevel logistic regression modelled the probability of mimicry occurrence, controlling for baseline empathy and clinical experience. ANCOVA compared group differences on relational empathy and consultation smoothness.

Results: Instructed mimicry lasted longer than spontaneous mimicry. Mimicry was marginally related to improved relational empathy. SP felt being treated more like a whole person during consultations with spontaneous mimicry. Clinicians who displayed spontaneous mimicry felt consultations went more smoothly.

Conclusion: The experimental approach improved our understanding of how non-verbal emotional mimicry contributed to relational empathy development during consultations. Further work should ascertain the potential of instructed mimicry to enhance empathy development.

Practice implications: Understanding how non-verbal emotional mimicry impacts on patients' perceived clinician empathy during consultations may inform training and intervention programme development.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-309
Number of pages6
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number2
Early online date30 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

    Research areas

  • Mimicry, Non-verbal emotion, Empathy, Experimental design

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