Caregiver Perceptions of Their Influence on Cancer Treatment Decision Making: Intersections of Language, Identity, and Illness

Janice L. Krieger, Angela L. Palmer-Wackerly, Jessica L. Krok-Schoen, Phokeng M. Dailey, Julianne C. Wojno, Nancy Schoenberg, Electra D. Paskett, Mark Dignan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Serious illness of a loved one can disrupt a caregiver’s sense of self and relationships. We examined the language caregivers use to describe the cancer treatment decision making of a loved one to understand how caregivers frame their own identity relative to a patient’s illness. We analyzed transcripts from in-depth interviews conducted with caregivers (N = 58) of cancer patients to examine the intersection among language, identity, and illness. Caregivers with a patient-level personal identity frame used phrases such as their body, their decision. Caregivers with a relational identity frame used plural pronouns such as we or our when describing the treatment decision. Importantly, some caregivers perceived an illness identity gap in that the patients’ perceptions of their illness identity differed from their own. Illness identity gaps are theorized to be associated with treatment decision making more closely aligned with intergroup, rather than interpersonal, processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)640-656
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute #U54 CA153604 (Appalachian Community Cancer Network).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2015.


  • cancer clinical trials
  • communication theory of identity
  • family decision making
  • illness identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Caregiver Perceptions of Their Influence on Cancer Treatment Decision Making: Intersections of Language, Identity, and Illness'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this