Applications of Nonverbal Communication

By Ronald E. Riggio; Robert S. Feldman | Go to book overview

1

Nonverbal Communication
and Health Care

Leslie R. Martin

La Sierra University

Howard S. Friedman

University of California, Riverside

Health and illness are complex, socially influenced concepts and understandings that rely heavily on communication. Nonverbal communication—the use of dynamic but non-language messages such as facial expressions, gestures, gaze, touch, and vocal cues—is especially important when emotions, identities, and status roles are significant, as well as in situations where verbal communications are untrustworthy, ambiguous, or otherwise difficult to interpret (DePaulo & Friedman, 1998). The importance of nonverbal cues is thus central in the health arena. Health care providers need accurate information from their patients regarding the type and duration of their symptoms; the frequency and validity of health-relevant behaviors; reactions to illness and treatment; and the probabilities associated with future behaviors. Patients, however, may be unable to report this information, and they may be motivated to conceal or misinterpret certain symptoms or behaviors, and to overestimate the likelihood of adherence to their medical regimens.

From the patient's perspective, transactions in a health care setting are often confusing and intimidating. The medical encounter represents a unique social situation, with one person holding most of the power, knowledge, and prestige and the other disclosing personal details about him- or herself, often while scantily dressed and experiencing considerable anxiety about the symptoms that precipitated the visit. The information that patients receive from health care providers 3

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