Diversity in lay perceptions of the sources of human traits: genes, environments, and personal behaviors

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Mar;56(5):1099-109. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00106-5.


Individual beliefs about the origins of illness and disease contribute to personal behavior to gain or maintain health and well-being. Both perceptions of the efficacy of recommended actions and the confidence individuals have in their ability to carry out prevention and detection practices may be associated with beliefs about illness causation. This study explored the perceptions of African American and European American men and women ages 18-45 years regarding the respective roles of inherited genes, social factors, personal behavior, and ecological environment on disease as compared to other human attributes, including height, weight, mental abilities, and talents. Results from focus group (N=16) data indicated that participants' (N=77) assignment of influence to various causative factors varied non-systematically by gender, race, education, economic class, and type of characteristic.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Causality*
  • Disease / ethnology*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / ethnology
  • Health Behavior / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Assessment
  • Self Efficacy
  • Social Environment
  • United States
  • Whites / psychology*