Patients' Characteristics Affecting Physician-Patient Nonverbal Communication Academic Article uri icon


  • Previous research has reported that nonverbal elements of physicianpatient communication influence medical outcomes such as patients understanding, compliance, and saris/action with health care delivery. This investigation examined the impact of various patients characteristics (age, sex, education, anxiety, and relational history with the physician) on patterns of nonverbal communication exhibited in 41 physicianpatient interactions at a family practice clinic. Several findings were noteworthy. First, although they were relatively consistent in their nonverbal responses to different patients, physicians generally reciprocated patient's adjustments in response latency, pauses during speaking turns, body orientation, and interruptions and compensated patient's modifications in turn duration and gestural rates. Second, physicians nonverbally interacted with patients over 30 years of age in a less domineering and more responsive fashion (e.g., comparable turn durations, more vocal backchannels, and more nonverbal behavior reciprocity) than they did when conversing with patients under 30. Third, physicians appeared responsive to patients experiencing various degrees of anxiety. Specifically, relative to their interactions with less worried patients, physicians used less task touch with anxious patients and to a greater degree compensated the worried patients nonverbal responses. Finally, the patients sex, education, and visit (i.e., first versus repeat) had little impact on the structure of physicianpatient nonverbal exchanges. Copyright 1988, Wiley Blackwell. All rights reserved

published proceedings

  • Human Communication Research

author list (cited authors)

  • STREET, R. L., & BULLER, D. B.

citation count

  • 64

complete list of authors


publication date

  • September 1988