Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Lay Prototypes of Illness among a Northern Sotho Community in South Africa

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Lay Prototypes of Illness among a Northern Sotho Community in South Africa

Article excerpt

Illness representations have been shown to differ across cultures. The aim of the study was to study disease terminology and lay prototypes among a Northern Sotho community in South Africa. The sample for a free listing of disease terms included 41 (55%) women and 34 (45%) men, with a mean age of 36 years (SD=5.6, range 18 to 75 years). The sample for pile sorting of disease terms included 80 Northern Sotho-speaking third-year students from the University of Limpopo; 44 women, 36 men, mean age, 23.4 years (SD=3.4). From free listing of disease terms 50 were selected for pile sorting. Using hierarchical cluster analysis the following clusters could be identified: (1) respiratory problems, (2) internal body problems and sexually transmitted diseases, (3) chronic diseases and head diseases, (4) child diseases and mental problems, (5) child diseases and cancer, (6) feet problems, (7) gastrointestinal diseases. There was homogeneity of features within cluster and difference between clusters.

Keywords: lay prototypes, illness, Northern Sotho, South Africa

Understanding the layperson's terminology of diseases is an important part of communication studies and health psychology (Lalljee, Lamb & Carnibella, 1993). Language plays a vital role in health terminology because it gives a broader definition of diseases, their causality and the possible ways of curing them. Health beliefs have been shown to be related to a wide range of processes. They include the identification of bodily signs as symptoms of particular illness, seeking professional help, compliance with medical advice, and interactions with people who suffer from that illness (see for example Bishop & Converse, 1986). Research on disease prototypes has revealed that lay illness diagnosis is influenced by symptom typicality, suggesting that it represents a "prototypematching process" (Von Lengerke, 2005). In addition to general concepts of illness, people also hold organized conceptions - termed disease prototypes - for particular diseases (Bishop 1991). For example, a person may have a disease prototype of heart disease. Similar to general illness conceptions, prototypes of specific diseases help people organize and evaluate information about bodily sensations that might otherwise not be interpretable. Thus, a person who holds the belief that he or she is vulnerable to heart disease is more likely to interpret chest pain in accord with his or her prototype of heart disease than is a person who does not hold this belief (Bishop & Converse).

Leventhal, Nerenz, and Steele (1984) suggested that illness representations have several components including the label placed upon the illness, its typical cause, and its expected consequences. Labeling a set of bodily signs as symptoms of a particular illness implies a particular set of causes, the likely duration, consequences and the method of cure (Lalljee et al., 1993). The features of representation of any particular illness are likely to be correlated rather than independent. For instance, Lau and Hartman (1983) have shown that there is a close relationship between a person's view of the cause of an illness and his/her conception about how to cure it. Generally, the representations of different illnesses differ and little attempt has been made to investigate the relationship between beliefs about different illnesses. The analysis of disease terminology will add greater coherence and systematization to the field of linguistics and psychology. Baumann (2003) showed that illness representations differ across cultures (e.g., egocentric versus sociocentric cultures). Therefore the aim of the study was to examine disease terminology and lay prototypes in an African (sociocentric) culture with possibly linguistic specificities of a Northern Sotho community in South Africa.

METHOD

STUDY ONE: FREE LISTING OF DISEASE TERMS

Sample and procedure The sample consisted of 41 (55%) women and 34 (45%) men, with a mean age of 36 years (SD=5. …

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