Nonverbal and paraverbal behavior in (simulated) medical visits related to genomics and weight: a role for emotion and race

J Behav Med. 2016 Oct;39(5):804-14. doi: 10.1007/s10865-016-9747-5. Epub 2016 May 4.


It is crucial to examine patient reactions to genomics-informed approaches to weight management within a clinical context, and understand the influence of patient characteristics (here, emotion and race). Examining nonverbal reactions offers a window into patients' implicit cognitive, attitudinal and affective processes related to clinical encounters. We simulated a weight management clinical interaction with a virtual reality-based physician, and experimentally manipulated patient emotional state (anger/fear) and whether the physician made genomic or personal behavior attributions for weight. Participants were 190 overweight females who racially identified as either Black or White. Participants made less visual contact when receiving genomic information in the anger condition, and Black participants exhibited lowered voice pitch when receiving genomic information. Black participants also increased their interpersonal distance when receiving genomic information in the anger condition. By studying non-conscious nonverbal behavior, we can better understand the nuances of these interactions. Trial registry NCT01888913.

Keywords: Emotion; Genomics; Nonverbal behavior; Obesity; Paraverbal behavior; Physician–patient interaction; Race.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Body Weight
  • Emotions
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Female
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Nonverbal Communication / psychology*
  • Overweight / psychology*
  • Overweight / therapy
  • Physician-Patient Relations*

Associated data