What role do lay beliefs about hypertension etiology play in perceptions of medication effectiveness?

Health Psychol. 2008 May;27(3):320-6. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.3.320.


Background: Some people take the disease label "hypertension" literally; leading to the belief that increasing relaxation instead of medication is the best treatment for this condition. We experimentally tested the effect of such underlying beliefs on ratings of interventions for hypertension and compared alternative communication strategies to increase medication effectiveness ratings.

Methods: Outpatients (N = 152) with a known diagnosis of hypertension read a vignette describing an asymptomatic condition and recommended treatment. Experimental factors were the disease label (Hypertension vs. Korotkoff's Syndrome) and type of argument designed to persuade the reader that medication is most effective (Causal vs. Correlational).

Measures: Background measures included demographics, beliefs that stress causes health problems and trust in physicians. Outcomes were effectiveness ratings for interventions to treat the condition.

Results: Participants who read a vignette describing "Hypertension" rated "relaxing more" as significantly more effective than participants exposed to the same condition but with the unfamiliar "Korotkoff's Syndrome" label, [F(1, 141) = 5.22, p = .024]. However, medication, reducing salty foods and losing weight were rated as more effective than relaxing more. Intervention ratings did not differ by type of argument presented. There was a significant interaction of disease label and trust in physicians [F(1, 125) = 7.01, p = .009]. Individuals with low trust rated medication as significantly less effective when exposed to an unfamiliar disease label.

Conclusions: This study confirms the effect of the hypertension disease label on ratings of different interventions for the condition. However, participants rated biomedically recommended interventions as more effective than those not endorsed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / drug therapy
  • Hypertension / etiology*
  • Hypertension / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Persuasive Communication
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Trust


  • Antihypertensive Agents