Pop Culture dictionary

Florence Nightingale Effect

or Nightingale Syndrome

What does the Florence Nightingale Effect mean?

The Florence Nightingale Effect explains why caregivers sometimes develop romantic and/or sexual feelings for their patients. Also known as Nightingale Syndrome, it is sometimes used to explain why caregivers show empathy and compassion for patients, even if there aren’t any romantic or sexual overtones.

Related words

Google effect, IKEA Effect, the Rashomon effect, Dunning Kruger effect, Mandela Effect

Where does Florence Nightingale Effect come from?

The Florence Nightingale Effect is named for Florence Nightingale, an English nurse who gained fame during the Crimean War for her efforts to train nurses and improve sanitary conditions in healthcare settings. Although there is no record of the real Nightingale ever falling in love while on the job, the “syndrome” borrows her name because of her compassion and tenderness for her patients.

Although the exact origins of the phrase are unknown, many credit the movie Back to the Future, which was released in 1985. In the film, Lorraine Baines (played by Lea Thompson) develops a crush on a strange boy who she cares for after he falls from a tree in front of her house. The boy turns out to be George McFly, who Lorraine later marries. Dr. Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd) tells Lorraine and George’s son, Marty McFly, that his mom’s crush on the boy is the Florence Nightingale Effect at work.

The phrase has since popped up in a variety of pop culture arenas and medical settings.

The Florence Nightingale Effect is often misinterpreted, with people assuming it means that a patient falls in love with their caregiver. Depending on the caregiver in question, this phenomena can be called transference, although typically this word is only used when a patient develops feelings for a mental-health professional.

Examples of Florence Nightingale Effect

I have to apologize to anyone who takes care of me. That whole Florence Nightingale effect thing must be tough. I'm quite a catch. 😏
@BiddleRidley, February, 2017

Who uses Florence Nightingale Effect?


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angel number, silky mom, WDYM, mid, almond mom


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