Particularly, Herzlich (1973) discovered that lay people linked illness and health to lifestyle: the participants shared the belief that stress, fatigue, and other adverse tensions associated with urban living could either exacerbate an illness caused by other factors or generate an illness on their own. Based on this finding Herzlich (1973) justified the lay concept of duality of health. According to that concept, health is an endogenous (within a person) thing maintaining of which requires constant struggle against a variety of exogenous (external) factors that cause illness. A series of subsequent studies further explored the links revealed by Herzlich (1973) across a range of ages, sexes, occupations, social classes, cultural backgrounds and other variables to discover the most essential features of lay beliefs about health and illness.
Most of these studies exposed the variation between lay perception of health and illness and direct social and material conditions of participants. The origins of lay conceptions of health were also identified. These findings were brilliantly summarized by Stacey (1988) in the following statement: “Ordinary people develop explanatory theories to account for their material, social and bodily circumstances.
These they apply to themselves as individuals, but in developing them they draw on all sorts of knowledge and wisdom, some of it derived from their own experience, some of it handed on by word of mouth, other parts of it derived from highly trained practitioners. Thus lay explanations go beyond common sense, in that explanations beyond the immediately obvious are included” (p. 142). Perception of health as functional capacity is also a common characteristic of lay health beliefs (Blaxter, 2004). Lay people treat ‘good health’ as the ability to normally fulfill the duties inherent in their social and/or economic roles.
This means that health may be perceived as the absence of illness on the one hand and as the ability to successfully cope with one’s duties despite illness. Such concept of health is predominantly shared by representatives of the middle class and the elderly who, therefore, viewed health as a sort of reserve enabling them to cope with illnesses. By contrast, those people who have poor health are less likely to adopt the functional conception of health (Blaxter, 2004). The notion of so-called ‘candidacy’ is an important feature of lay health concept.
This notion is used by lay persons to explain relative risk of illness and effectiveness of preventive behaviours.
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