Research Measures Racial Differences in Nonverbal Communication Between Doctors and Patients

A study by researchers at the University of South Carolina examined nonverbal communication between physicians and elderly patients. The researchers used videotaped encounters between Black and White physicians and patients over the age of 65. The researchers’ analysis of nonverbal behaviors, including smiling, eye contact, touching, and open body position, found that generally Black physicians outperformed White physicians in positive nonverbal contact with their patients.

The study also found that Black doctors were more likely to show positive nonverbal behavior to Black patients than they did to White patients. Irena Stepanikova, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina and a coauthor of the study, concluded, “This conflicted pattern of communication may suggest a lack of social ease that is reminiscent of behavior between female doctors with male patients.”

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, may be downloaded here.

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