Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Forrest A. Deseran


This study established theoretical and empirical foundations for the investigation into how physicians deal with (treat) patient emotion. The questions posed, "Do physicians employ specific strategies to treat patient emotion?" and "What are the effects of physician-patient social characteristics (gender and race) on emotion treatment?" Coalescing two seemingly incongruent perspectives (social constructionism and Kemper's social relational theory), I clarified the conceptual basis for the emotion management of other people. From these perspectives, I developed a three stage theory to describe and explain the physician treatment of patient emotion (triaging, diagnosing, and treatment), as well as appreciate the effects of social characteristics on this process. Regarding the first research question, survey data collected from 225 practicing physicians supported the twenty-two proposed strategies to treat patient emotion. Considering the second question, analyses produced some support for the predicted effects of gender and race. For physician gender, female physicians were, in general, more likely to treat patient emotion than their male colleagues. However, physician gender was only significant when the physicians' type of medical practice (general vs. specialized) and practice setting (private vs. institutional) were controlled in the analysis model, suggesting that physician gender differences were more complex than those based exclusively on sex. For patient gender and race, analysis indicated that physicians randomly assigned black patient vignettes had significantly higher scores on measures of emotion evading and lower scores for emotion importance than physicians with white patients. This suggests that a patient's social characteristics do influence physician treatment of patient emotion. Overall, my research demonstrates a growing ideological acceptance and consideration for the role of emotion in medicine, whether this is occurring in actual practice remains unknown.