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Mindfulness Effects on Mindreading: An Informatics Perspective

Authors: John Clark Bilane, B.B.A

Primary Advisor: Hongbin Wang, Ph.D

Committee Member: Amy Franklin, Ph.D

Masters thesis, The University of Texas School of Biomedical Informatics at Houston.


Human-computer interaction (HCI) and human-human interaction (HHI) are fundamental to safe, effective and efficient health care delivery, among six critical aims for improvement in healthcare quality proposed by the Institute of Medicine in the landmark report Bridging the Quality Chasm (Institute of Medicine, 2000). While this hugely influential report has driven massive research efforts toward improving healthcare quality, the benefits have yet to be fully realized. Well designed, fast, reliable clinical information systems may still engender negative emotions in workers(Sittig, Krall, Kaalaas-Sittig, & Ash, 2005). Negative emotions and attitudes among members of health care delivery teams are common. We propose that negativity among healthcare workers is exacerbated by frustrating interactions with computerized systems that degrade cognitive abilities. In the human and social context of BMI, people are the ultimate users of biomedical data. Data, information, and knowledge alone (Kulikowski et al., 2012) are limited in their ability to improve healthcare quality. To further improve, we must consider users’ mental states. Interventions employing mindfulness(i.e. intentional, non-judgmental, present moment awareness) have demonstrated efficacy in treatment of physical illnesses and psychological disorders, as well as in stress reduction and improving social cognition (Davidson et al., 2003; Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004; Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Research into interpersonal cognition suggests that people rely heavily on the ability to intuit or infer thoughts, feelings, desires, and intentions of other people, but that this mindreading ability is unreliable and varies widely between individuals(Apperly, 2010; Ickes & Aronson, 2003). We propose that mindreading is connected to mindfulness through a set of neural executive functions (Siegel, 2007), and that mindfulness can improve mindreading by cultivating attuned communication, i.e., a sense of being heard and understood by an interaction partner—human or computerized. Mindfulness interventions could be integrated into clinical information systems, from computer based mindfulness training, to an occasional reminder to take a deep breath and relax, to complex feedback systems that intuit mental states of users and invoke compensatory mindfulness-enhancing content. In this paper we report on the results of a literature review of mindfulness and mindreading, discuss the connection between attuned communication and mindreading, and present an informatics perspective, along with applications, and topics for future research.