Explanatory models of illness: A study of within-culture variation

Elizabeth Lynch*, Douglas Medin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The current studies explore causal models of heart attack and depression generated from American healers whom use distinct explanatory frameworks. Causal chains leading to two illnesses, heart attack and depression, were elicited from participant groups: registered nurses (RNs), energy healers, RN energy healers, and undergraduates. The domain-specificity hypothesis predicted that psycho-social and physical causes would not interact in illness models. Across illnesses, RNs and undergraduates rarely cited interactions between mental and physical causes, consistent with the domain specificity hypothesis. In contrast, energy healers frequently mentioned interactions. Study 2 showed that these differences were not due to salience. These results suggest that domain-specificity theory is supported for groups with extensive exposure to western medicine but does not explain energy models of illness. Implications for other cultural models of illness are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-309
Number of pages25
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2006


  • Causal reasoning
  • Cultural differences
  • Illness causal beliefs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


Dive into the research topics of 'Explanatory models of illness: A study of within-culture variation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this