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Listening to Voice Tones to Assess Doctor-Patient Communication

Narrator: This is Science Today. In studies of doctor-patient communication, University of California, Riverside psychologists have used audio technology that can filter out speech and focus instead on voice tone. Robin DiMatteo, a leading researcher of doctor-patient communication, says they use a method called rating in which scales are developed that allow for assessment by individuals listening to voice tone cues.

DiMatteo: How positive or negative is it? How active or passive is the doctor or the patient? How submissive or dominant?

Narrator: In one of their studies, the researchers found that a doctor's voice tones are quite different with patients of different socioeconomic status.

DiMatteo: One of the goals of this research is to identify possible, what we call micro-inequities in communication, such that with lower income patients and possibly even with patients who are ethnic minority, that it may be that they're just getting a different pattern of communication. We're in the process now of trying to determine what implications that has.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.