Physical therapists' nonverbal communication predicts geriatric patients' health outcomes

Psychol Aging. 2002 Sep;17(3):443-452. doi: 10.1037/0882-7974.17.3.443.


Two studies explored the link between health care providers' patterns of nonverbal communication and therapeutic efficacy. In Study 1, physical therapists were videotaped during a session with a client. Brief samples of therapists' nonverbal behavior were rated by naive judges. Judges' ratings were then correlated with clients' physical, cognitive, and psychological functioning at admission, at discharge, and at 3 months following discharge. Therapists' distancing behavior was strongly correlated with short- and long-term decreases in their clients' physical and cognitive functioning. Distancing was expressed through a pattern of not smiling and looking away from the client. In contrast, facial expressiveness, as revealed through smiling, nodding, and frowning, was associated with short- and long-term improvements in functioning. In Study 2, elderly subjects perceived distancing behaviors of therapists more negatively than positive behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nonverbal Communication*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*