ANALYSIS OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EMPATHY AND FAMILY FUNCTIONING IN DENTISTRY STUDENTS OF THE LATIN AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (ULACIT), SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
Empathy is a fundamental attribute for health science professionals, which has both affective and cognitive components, as well as a complex family influence during its development. This work seeks to establish the relationship between empathy and family functioning, as well as the possible relation with gender, in active students of Dentistry of the Latin American University of Science and Technology (ULACIT). A previous study in this same institution showed that gender is an influential factor in the levels of empathy, favoring women (Sánchez et al, 2013), but by increasing practical and community-related experiences, those differences between men and women decreased (Utsman et al, 2017). This paper analyzes the effect of family functioning on empathy levels using two instruments: the Family Functional Questionnaire (FACES) and the Jefferson Empathy Scale (JSE-S). A total of 159 dental students of ULACIT (Costa Rica), active in 2016, equivalent to 53.7% of the population participated. The statistical analysis used ANOVA, Kolmogorov-Smirnov test and Levene test of equality of variances. The analysis of bifactorial variance, model III, shows that for general empathy there are no significant differences (p> 0.05), but if the dimensions are analyzed individually, “Compassion with Care” was superior in females (effect size of 0.032, test power 0.614). The other dimensions did not show gender differences. Regarding family function, the scale considered three different styles: balanced, intermedium, and extreme; which Interestingly, most of the participants belonged to the third style. Family functionality has been described as responsible for generating sensitization and understanding behaviors towards the patient (Madera et al, 2015). Extreme families may be chaotically attached, chaotically detached, rigidly attached or rigidly detached, and these conditions could generate a strong need of fidelity and loyalty (Olson et al, 1983). The students with extreme styles of family functioning showed higher levels of empathy, which can be explained by the development of a personality structure and dynamics that incorporates both resilience and comprehension and acceptance of the differences between people. A person can overcome adversity, and learn to communicate effectively and recognize values and conditions of others. Another explanation for the result could be associated with the possible cultural bias in the measurement of family functioning that the FACES scale offers. Although there is literature reporting positive results of the adaptation of the scale to Spanish and its corresponding application in Latin American contexts (Costa et al, 2013), it is possible that the scale does not consider the particularities of the Costa Rican families.
The results of this study indicated that there is a relationship between the type of family functioning (accordingly with the actual use of the scale) and empathy, were extreme families have higher values of empathy. The development of this communication skill is key for a health science professional, so the recognition of the influence of the student’s background is important to design a learning experience to develop empathy.