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Health Commun. 2011 Mar;26(2):185-97. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2010.544283.

Empathic exchanges in online cancer support groups: distinguishing message expression and reception effects.

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Department of Telecommunications, University of Georgia.


Past studies on the efficacy of participation in online cancer support groups have primarily focused on the role of expression in the accrual of health benefits for participants. Unfortunately, few steps have been taken to determine whether this observed effect arises solely from the internal mental processes underlying the act of expressing or, perhaps, owes something to a nuanced, multidimensional understanding of expression that includes reception of responses to what is expressed. To test for the multilayered effect, we attend to one of the key concepts in the online support community scholarship: empathy. Our findings suggest that it is a combination of empathy expression and reception that is crucial to attaining optimal benefits for cancer patients. Further, our finding supports the buffering hypothesis that empathic expression provides a salutary effect for patients who experienced a higher degree of concern associated with their cancer diagnosis and follow-up treatments.

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