Trust, communication, theory of mind and the social brain hypothesis

Deep explanations for what goes wrong in health care

Louise Fitzgerald, Marl Lorna Annabelle, Jeffrey Braithwaite, Rick A. Iedema, Christine Jorm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose The purpose of the paper is to examine the deep conceptual underpinnings of trust and communication breakdowns via selected health inquiries into things that go wrong using evolutionary psychology. Designomethodologyoapproach This paper explains how this is carried out, and explores some of the adverse consequences for patient care. Evolutionary psychology provides a means of explaining important mental capacities and constructs including theory of mind and the social brain hypothesis. To have a theory of mind is to be able to read others' behaviours, linguistic and non-verbal cues, and analyse their intentions. To have a social (or Machiavellian) brain means being able to assess, compete with and, where necessary, outwit others. In the tough and complex environment of the contemporary health setting, not too different from the Pleistocene, humans display a well-developed theory of mind and social brains and, using mental attributes and behavioural repertoires evolved for the deep past in hunter-gatherer bands, survive and thrive in difficult circumstances. Findings The paper finds that, while such behaviours cannot be justified, armed with an evolutionary approach one can predict survival mechanisms such as turf protection, competitive strategies, sending transgressors and whistleblowers to Coventry, self-interest, and politics and tribal behaviours. Originalityovalue The paper shows that few studies examine contemporary health sector behaviours through an evolutionary psychology lens or via such deep accounts of human nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-367
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of health organization and management
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sep 2007
Externally publishedYes

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