Causes, coping, and culture: A comparative survey study on representation of back pain in three Swiss language regions

Peter J. Schulz, Uwe Hartung, Silvia Riva

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37 Scopus citations


Introduction: This study intends to contribute to a research tradition that asks how causal attributions of illnesses affect coping behavior. Causal attributions are understood as the most important element of illness representations and coping as a means to preserve quality of life. The issue is applied to a condition so far often neglected in research on illness representations-back pain-and a third concept is added to the picture: culture. Aim: The aim of this study is (a) to explore the causal factors to which persons with back pain attribute the further course of their illness, (b) to find out whether the attributed causes are predictors of coping maxims, and (c) to find out whether cultural factors affect attributions and coping and moderate the relationship between the two. Methods: A total of 1259 gainfully employed or self-employed persons with recent episodes of back pain were recruited in the three language regions of Switzerland. They were asked to complete a structured online interview, measuring among many other variables attributed causes, coping maxims, and affiliation to one of the Swiss micro-cultures (German-, Frenchor Italian-speaking). Results: Attributed causes of the illness that can be influenced by a patient go along with more active coping styles. Cultural affiliation impacts on coping maxims independently, but culture moderates the relationship of attributed causes and coping maxims only in two of twenty possible cases. Implications: The results show that cultural differences can be analytically incorporated in the models of illness representations. Results may help to improve healthcare providers' communication with patients and plan public health campaigns. The approach to micro-cultural differences and the substantive relationships between alterability of causes and activity in coping may help the further development of models of illness representations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere78029
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2013


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