Social learning influences on menstrual symptoms and illness behavior

Health Psychol. 1986;5(1):13-23. doi: 10.1037//0278-6133.5.1.13.


The contribution of learning to the adult experience of illness was investigated by asking 351 nursing students how their mothers reacted to menstrual symptoms and cold symptoms during their adolescence and how their mothers behaved when they themselves had menstrual symptoms. Mothers of respondents were independently asked the same questions. Nursing students who had been encouraged to adopt a sick role for menses or whose mothers modeled menstrual distress reported significantly more menstrual symptoms, clinic visits, and disability days for these symptoms as adults. Similarly, those encouraged to adopt a sick role for colds or who lived with a chronically ill person reported more clinic visits and disability days for nongynecological symptoms. Specific types of symptom reports and health care appeared to be learned: Encouragement and modeling of the menstrual sick role were more highly correlated with symptom reports, clinic visits, and absenteeism for menstrual than for nongynecological symptoms, and encouragement of the cold sick role was more highly correlated with nongynecological than with menstrual clinic visits and absenteeism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Common Cold / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Menstruation Disturbances / psychology*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Sick Role*