Monday, 2 February 2015


A psychological investigation

A report of a psychological investigation by Matthew Lebowitz and Ann Woo of the Department of Psychology of Harvard University, published in December, may be of interest to people involved in some way with Conductive Education.

The investigation did not of course concern Conductive Education, but the analogies should be clear enough.

Here is the formal summary. As you read it you may wish to try changing the expression 'mental disorders' to 'motor disorders', and adjust other wording to suit this new context – 

Mental disorders are increasingly understood biologically. We tested the effects of biological explanations among mental health clinicians, specifically examining their empathy toward patients. Conventional wisdom suggests that biological explanations reduce perceived blameworthiness against those with mental disorders, which could increase empathy. Yet, conceptualizing mental disorders biologically can cast patients as physiologically different from “normal” people and as governed by genetic or neurochemical abnormalities instead of their own human agency, which can engender negative social attitudes and dehumanization. This suggests that biological explanations might actually decrease empathy. Indeed, we find that biological explanations significantly reduce clinicians’ empathy. This is alarming because clinicians’ empathy is important for the therapeutic alliance between mental health providers and patients and significantly predicts positive clinical outcomes.

Only a single psychological experiment, of course. I make no assumption about how broadly such a phenomenon might apply.


Lebowitz, M., Ahn, W. (2014). Effects of biological explanations for mental disorders on clinicians’ empathy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no 50, pp. 17786-17790
(You can access the complete article should you wish for US$10.00)

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