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Social perception in the clinical dental encounter: the matched-guise technique re-visited

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This study investigated whether student dentists' ratings of a female putative patient's personality, communication skills and dental condition in an audiotaped dentist-patient interaction related to patient socio-economic status (SES), as operationalised by accent type. Thirty-nine student dentists in their second pre-clinical year of study, and 62 with two or three years of clinical training in the BDS programme at a British University Dental School took part. Pre-clinical students judged the 'working class' patient's condition to be more psychosomatic in origin than experienced students. All students rated the 'middle class' patient's communication skills more highly, e.g. grammar. Personality judgements were not a function of perceived patient SES, save for intelligence. Context effects in experienced students' stereotyping of the putative dentist were also found: he was perceived as friendlier and more informative when interacting with the 'middle class' patient. These findings have relevance for both the clinical literature, which has sometimes under-represented the complexity of stereotyping processes operating in practitioner-patient encounters, and for theory-building in social cognition/perception.
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Keywords: Context effect; Health inequality; Practitioner bias; Social identity; Stereotype

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 June 2004

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