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Sensitivity to bodily nonverbal communication as a factor in practitioner-patient rapport


The relationship between physicians' nonverbal sensitivity and the satisfaction of their patients was tested in two field studies. In the first study, 40 physicians were given a film test of nonverbal sensitivity (the PONS test) and were evaluated by their patients. The second study was a replication using 31 additional physicians. Most noteworthy for research in therapeutic interaction, the present studies contained three methodological advances: (1) the use of actual patients' ratings of satisfaction with treatment, (2) the extension of research from psychological to medical settings, and (3) the use of a standardized test of nonverbal decoding skill. Physicians' skill at reading the emotion conveyed through the nonverbal channel of body movement was found to be significantly correlated with their interpersonal success with patients in the clinical setting.

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The authors would like to thank Donald Dickson, M.D., Mary Ann Spadaro, M.D., Louise M. Prince, John L. Helmuth, Jr., Helene M. Murphy, and the physicians and patients who participated in the research. Study I was supported by a Peter B. Livingston Fellowship from the Massachusetts Mental Health Center and Study II by a W. K. Kellogg Fellowship from the Hospital Research and Educational Trust, both to the senior author.

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DiMatteo, M.R., Friedman, H.S. & Taranta, A. Sensitivity to bodily nonverbal communication as a factor in practitioner-patient rapport. J Nonverbal Behav 4, 18–26 (1979).

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  • Clinical Setting
  • Social Psychology
  • Field Study
  • Standardize Test
  • Body Movement