Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine

Living Edition
| Editors: Marc Gellman

Lay Beliefs

  • Christopher J. KilbyEmail author
  • Kerry A. Sherman
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6439-6_101997-1



Lay beliefs represent an individual’s subjective and informal explanation for the world around them (including explanations relating to health and illness) that do not necessarily have to concur with scientific knowledge (Furnham 1988). As lay beliefs are subjective, they will differ from person to person such that one person’s understanding of their world will not necessarily be the same as another person.


Lay beliefs develop from our individual experiences, developmental and cultural upbringing, social mores, and education. As such, we continue to develop new beliefs and alter current beliefs throughout the lifespan as we learn, experience new situations, and endure changes in culture (Zlius et al. 2017). It is thought that lay beliefs influence the way information from the environment is encoded, interpreted, and recalled, leading to interindividual differences in...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References and Further Reading

  1. Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Orgnizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.  https://doi.org/10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-T.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boot, C. R. L., Meijman, F. J., & van Dulmen, S. (2009). Beliefs about the causes of health complaints: A study in primary care. Health Communication, 24(4), 346–350.  https://doi.org/10.1080/10410230902889373.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Denscombe, M. (1993). Personal health and the social psychology of risk taking. Health Education Research, 8(4), 505–517. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
  4. Evans, M. R., Prout, H., Prior, L., Tapper-Jones, L. M., & Butler, C. C. (2007). A qualitative study of lay beliefs about influenza immunisation in older people. British Journal of General Practice, 57(538), 352–358. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15239914
  5. Fernandez, M. E., McCurdy, S. A., Arvey, S. R., Tyson, S. K., Morales-Campos, D., Flores, B., et al. (2009). HPV knowledge, attitudes, and cultural beliefs among Hispanic men and women living on the Texas-Mexico border. Ethnicity & Health, 14(6), 607–624.  https://doi.org/10.1080/13557850903248621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Figueiras, M. J., Cortes, M. A., Marcelino, D., & Weinman, J. (2010). Lay views about medicines: The influence of the illness label for the use of generic versus brand. Psychology and Health, 25(9), 1121–1128.  https://doi.org/10.1080/08870440903137170.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Frosch, D., Kimmel, S., & Volpp, K. (2008). What role do lay beliefs about hypertension etiology play in perceptions of medication effectiveness? Health PsychologyHealth Psychology, 27(3), 320–326.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-6133.27.3.320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Furnham, A. (1988). Lay theories: Everyday understanding of problems in the social sciences. Oxford, United Kingdom: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  9. Kaufman, A. R., Koblitz, A. R., Persoskie, A., Ferrer, R. A., Klein, W. M. P., Dwyer, L. A., & Park, E. R. (2016). Factor structure and stability of smoking-related health beliefs in the National Lung Screening Trial. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 18(3), 321–329.  https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/ntv091.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Leventhal, H., Phillips, L. A., & Burns, E. (2016). The common-sense model of self-regulation (CSM): A dynamic framework for understanding illness self-management. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 39(6), 935–946.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-016-9782-2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Porteous, T., Francis, J., Bond, C., & Hannaford, P. (2010). Temporal stability of beliefs about medicines: Implications for optimising adherence. Patient Education and Counseling, 79(2), 225–230.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2009.07.037.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Shaw, I. (2002). How lay are lay beliefs? Health, 6(3), 287–299.  https://doi.org/10.1177/136345930200600302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Siegel, K., Schrimshaw, E. W., & Dean, L. (1999). Symptom interpretation: Implications for delay in HIV testing and care among HIV-infected late middle-aged and older adults. AIDS Care, 11(5), 525–535.  https://doi.org/10.1080/09540129947686.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Weinman, J., Petrie, K. J., Moss-Morris, R., & Horne, R. (1996). The illness perception questionnaire: A new method for assessing the cognitive representation of illness. Psychology and Health, 11, 43–5. Retrieved from http://www.uib.no/ipq/pdf/Theillnessperceptionquestionnaire.pdf
  15. Zlius, C. M., Müller, B. C. N., & Schooler, J. W. (2017). The Science of lay theories: How beliefs shape our cognition, behavior, and health. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Emotional Health, Department of PsychologyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kerry Sherman
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Emotional Health, Department of PsychologyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia