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Responses to illness vary considerably from person to person, not only as the result of differences in physiology and temperament, but also due to learning experiences, attitudes and beliefs. This study demonstrates that parental reinforcement of illness behaviour in childhood significantly increases the impact of symptoms on daily life in adulthood, after taking into account the number of symptoms reported, the perceived severity of the symptoms and levels of anxiety and depression. Considering health beliefs, this study demonstrates that increased parental reinforcement of illness behaviour is associated with decreased perceptions of resistance to illness, an association partially mediated by symptom impact. Likewise, the association between reported symptoms and perceived resistance to illness is partially mediated by the effects of reported symptoms on daily life. It is suggested that patterns of illness behaviour are learned during childhood and have a significant impact on both the way that individuals respond to symptoms and beliefs about personal health in adulthood. The adaptive value of different learning experiences and patterns of illness behaviour for various medical conditions are discussed. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Personality and Individual Differences

Publication Date





785 - 798