Physician Racial Bias and Word Use during Racially Discordant Medical Interactions

Health Commun. 2017 Apr;32(4):401-408. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2016.1138389. Epub 2016 Jun 16.


Physician racial bias can negatively affect Black patients' reactions to racially discordant medical interactions, suggesting that racial bias is manifested in physicians' communication with their Black patients. However, little is known about how physician racial bias actually influences their communication during these interactions. This study investigated how non-Black physicians' racial bias is related to their word use during medical interactions with Black patients. One hundred and seventeen video-recorded racially discordant medical interactions from a larger study were transcribed and analyzed using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software. Physicians with higher levels of implicit racial bias used first-person plural pronouns and anxiety-related words more frequently than physicians with lower levels of implicit bias. There was also a trend for physicians with higher levels of explicit racial bias to use first-person singular pronouns more frequently than physicians with lower levels of explicit bias. These findings suggest that non-Black physicians with higher levels of implicit racial bias may tend to use more words that reflect social dominance (i.e., first-person plural pronouns) and anxiety when interacting with Black patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asian / psychology
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Midwestern United States
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • White People / psychology