Protective Buffering and Emotional Desynchrony Among Spousal Caregivers of Cancer Patients

Shelby L. Langer, Michael E. Rudd, Karen L. Syrjala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine protective buffering and emotional desynchrony among spousal caregivers of cancer survivors. Design: Repeated measures; 42 caregivers engaged in 2 videotaped, oral emotional expression exercises: 1 in the presence of their patient and 1 in the absence of their patient. Main Outcome Measures: Felt emotion (self-report) and expressed emotion (lexical expression or words uttered and coder-derived facial expression). Other measures assessed mental and physical health, dyadic satisfaction, and dispositional emotional inhibition. Results: Protective buffering differed by communicative channel (lexical vs. facial). Caregivers' facial expressions were more positive when the patient was present versus absent. In contrast, the valence of caregivers' words did not differ per patient presence. Facial protective buffering was unrelated to health and dyadic outcomes. Lexical protective buffering was inversely related to both caregiver and patient marital satisfaction. Dispositional emotional inhibition was inversely related to caregiver mental health and marital satisfaction. Desynchrony occurred when the patient was present but was counter to prediction; felt emotion was more positive than expressed emotion. Conclusion: Results provide behavioral evidence of facial protective buffering. To the extent that lexical buffering occurs, it poses a dyadic risk, and chronic inhibition poses both psychological and dyadic risks. Future research is needed to refine the operational definition of desynchrony and to examine the biopsychosocial sequelae of buffering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-643
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • cancer
  • caregivers
  • communicative channel
  • emotional expression
  • protective buffering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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