Lower levels of trust in one's physician is associated with more distress over time in more anxiously attached individuals with cancer

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2014 Jul-Aug;36(4):382-7. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2014.03.005. Epub 2014 Mar 12.


Objective: In the present study, we investigated individual differences in the outcome of patient-physician trust when confronted with cancer from an attachment theoretical perspective. We expected that lower levels of trust are associated with more emotional distress and more physical limitations within the first 15 months after diagnosis, especially in those who score relatively high on attachment anxiety. No such association was expected for more avoidantly attached individuals.

Method: A group of 119 patients with different types of cancer (breast, cervical, intestinal and prostate) completed questionnaires concerning trust (short version of the Wake Forest Physician Trust Scale) and attachment (Experiences in Close Relationship scale Revised) at 3 months after diagnosis. Emotional distress (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) and physical limitations (physical functioning subscales of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer, Quality of Life Questionnaire-C30) were assessed at 3, 9 and 15 months after diagnosis. To test the hypotheses, multiple hierarchical regression analyses were performed.

Results: Lower levels of trust were associated with more emotional distress and more physical limitations at 3, 9 and 15 months after diagnosis in more anxiously attached patients, but not in less anxiously attached patients.

Discussion: These results indicate an attachment-dependent effect of trust in one's physician. Explanations and clinical implications are discussed.

Keywords: Attachment; Cancer; Emotional distress; Patient–physician trust; Physical functioning.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Trust / psychology