Background Information in oncological consultations is often excessive. Those patients who better recall information are more satisfied, less anxious and more adherent. Optimal recall may be enhanced by the oncologist’s non-verbal communication. We tested the influence of three non-verbal behaviors, i.e. eye contact, body posture and smiling, on patients’ recall of information and perceived friendliness of the oncologist. Moreover, the influence of patient characteristics on recall was examined, both directly or as a moderator of non-verbal communication.
Material and methods Non-verbal communication of an oncologist was experimentally varied using video vignettes. In total 194 breast cancer patients/survivors and healthy women participated as ‘analog patients’, viewing a randomly selected video version while imagining themselves in the role of the patient. Directly after viewing, they evaluated the oncologist. From 24 to 48 hours later, participants’ passive recall, i.e. recognition, and free recall of information provided by the oncologist were assessed.
Results Participants’ recognition was higher if the oncologist maintained more consistent eye contact (β = 0.17). More eye contact and smiling led to a perception of the oncologist as more friendly. Body posture and smiling did not significantly influence recall. Older age predicted significantly worse recognition (β = −0.28) and free recall (β = −0.34) of information.
Conclusion Oncologists may be able to facilitate their patients’ recall functioning through consistent eye contact. This seems particularly relevant for older patients, whose recall is significantly worse. These findings can be used in training, focused on how to maintain eye contact while managing computer tasks.
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