Psychophysiological research in EACH

The literature shows a consistent relationship between specific communication behaviour of health care providers and a number of positive patient outcomes 1-4, but says little about the pathways linking these types of communication to patient or even provider outcomes 5-7. This special interest group focuses on the missing link by investigating the effect of communication on psycho-physiological processes.

Questions to be addressed include:

What happens within the body in reaction to different communicative interventions?
What is the bodily impact of empathy?
Can we identify individual differences based on bodily responses to communication?

Understanding how and why communication contributes to outcomes is highly needed to establish best practices for prevalent communication issues in health care, e.g. how to break bad news, how to improve patients’ recall of information or how to optimize their adherence to treatment or lifestyle advice. Health care providers can then be trained accordingly. In other words, insight is needed to secure high quality patient care in support of patients’ optimal health.

The inclusion of psychophysiological measures in communication research is a new and exciting development and its high potential is well recognized. Such measures may include measures of electrodermal and cardiovascular responses indicating involvement of the sympathic nervous system and cortisol measures indicating involvement of the HPA-axis. So far, this line of research has resulted in a small but substantial number of international publications (see for example 8- 17). By including real time psychophysiological measures a more precise picture might emerge of the affective and cognitive processes related to particular segments of a patient-provider interaction, like arousal, attention and cognitive effort of the persons involved. Hence, psychophysiological measures provide a unique window on the activation of emotional and cognitive processes evoked during a medical interaction. For example, physiological measures can pick up subtle changes in affect or arousal during the interaction that are not easily detectable by self-report or observation. Furthermore, physiological responses resulting from communicative behaviours provide clues to the differential effectiveness of these behaviours.

To take full advantage of the possibilities of psychophysiological data while at the same time tackling methodological pitfalls, cooperation between researchers in the domain of healthcare communication research , and maybe even experts in the domain of psycho-physiological measurement, is essential 18.

Together, we would like to find answers to a range of questions:

  1. Which theoretical models are relevant for linking provider communication to reduction of arousal in patients and beneficial effects in health outcomes?
  2. Which designs can be used to empirically investigate the link between provider behaviour to patient expressions of cues and concerns and reduction of arousal in patients?
  3. Which measurement issues need to be addressed to validly link indicators of arousal of patients and/or providers (electrodermal, cardiovascular, hormonal) to discrete communicative events in the interaction.
  4. How are psychophysiological parameters linked to the communication style of a provider?
  5. How to analyse and interpret the data obtained such that valid conclusions can be drawn about a possible link between provider communication and reduction of arousal in patients?
  6. What do psycho-physiological measures add to self-report measures?


  1. Network formation to share information and create a stable knowledge base
  2. To collaboratively organise pre-conference workshops or symposia on this topic
  3. To create a network in which we could write collaborative research proposal to raise funds


Completed projects:
Yearly research meetings have been held in Verona in collaboration with the Verona Network of Sequence Analysis. There was no such meeting in 2017.

Current projects:
In the meeting in Verona in April 2018, old and new members will present their current work and ideas for new projects.

Future planned projects:
No collaborative projects to report at present.



No other list of members exists at the moment. We will create such a list during the Verona meeting in April as new members will present there psychophysiological work there.


A low level of activity in 2017 due to the fact that in 2017, there was no Verona meeting and no EACH conference.

How can EACH help

Our first priority is to meet in Verona and make plans for future activities. We will come back to the question of how EACH could help support our activities.


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