Intersections in Nonverbal and Health Communication at #NCA12

At the 2012 National Communication Association annual convention, researchers from around the country shared their work in a panel titled “Intersections in Nonverbal and Health Communication.” I was drawn to the panel because most of the papers incorporated some kind of communication technology either in the research design or the methodology. Here’s a quick recap of the presentations:

Chronemics in Health Communication
Ashley Barrett and Dawna Ballard, University of Texas-Austin
This paper raises the issues between Electronic Health Record (EHR) Implementation and the stability of the doctor-patient exchange. How does the presence of a computer in a medical interview impact doctor-patient communication? Early findings suggest that, well, it depends. Computers detract from eye contact and doctor observations of nonverbal communication. Its presence in the patient meeting reduces relational tasks (vs. information tasks) and disrupts the temporal order of the conversation. Early research finds that doctors are resistant to EHR implementation, but not for the nonverbal reasons mentioned here.

Nonverbal Narratives in Health Communication Interventions
Peter Andersen, San Diego State University
Andersen and his team have been developing narrative-based emotional communication artifacts to encourage healthy behavior (like wearing sunscreen). “Narratives eliminate argument,” says Andersen. “It’s hard to argue with a story.” The team’s grant-funded work has been primarily with sunscreen advocacy on ski slopes, though it has potential to be applied to behavioral issues across health (and other) fields.

Autism Self-Advocacy on YouTube
Jessica Hughes, University of Colorado-Boulder
Hughes studies videos representing “neurodiversity” and disability rights, specifically through the communicative autistic nonverbal communication presented in I Stim, Therefore I Am (Yergeau, 2012) and  In my language (Baggs, 2007). Because nonverbal communication is grounded in “neurotypical” patterns, engaging with phenomenological study of autistic communication leads to this question: can nonverbal communication attend to the levels of experience of neurodiversity? Whether or not it can, at the least, Hughes makes stronger the case the YouTube has the power to advance all voices.

Nonverbal Behaviors during Expressions of Resistance to Diet and Nutrition Changes: An Analysis of Videotaped Provider-Patient Interactions
Ashley Duggan, Boston College and Ylisabyth Bradshaw, Tufts University
Resistance to lifestyle changes may be well-predicted by nonverbal communication patterns, such as slouching, eye contact avoidance, closed behavior, negative tone of voice, contempt, inconsistency between verbal and nonverbal, compensation behavior, heavy sighing, self-adaptors (like self-touching). Using StudioCode to assess video observations, Duggan and Bradshaw have invested in the power of video-based observations. On the issue of nonverbal expressions of resistance, the team says, “The behaviors were far less subtle than we anticipated.”

Creating Community without Words
Cindy Larson-Casselton, Concordia College
In Dr. Larson-Casselton’s nonverbal communication courses, students are paired with an Alzheimer’s patient or stroke victim. Working with these almost-entirely nonverbal populations grounds student learning in a service learning component with high levels of relational training. (Note: students, facility, and families of patients all work together for a successful relationship and learning experience that honors the patients).

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