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Patterns of 'Abnormal' Illness Behavior among Healthy Individuals

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Objectives: We extend the seminal work of Professor Issy Pilowsky by presenting a contemporary re-conceptualization of abnormal illness behavior (AIB) as a general psychological phenomenon evident among healthy community members. Methods: Participants (N = 344) completed a self- report questionnaire comprising health information and well-validated psychological measures from the field of somatization (eg, AIB, attributional style for physical symptoms, cognitive distortion of somatic information, illness likelihood, maladaptive coping). Results: Cluster analysis of illness behavior responses resulted in 3 unique groupings distinguished by key health and psychological variables. Cluster 1 reflected 'normal' responses, Cluster 2 'atypical' and Cluster 3 'maladaptive'. Cluster 3 may represent a personality attribute indicative of a general style of interpreting illness in a more extreme way (trait AIB) whereas Cluster 2 may reflect a transient response to a specific illness event (state AIB). Conclusions: The construct of 'abnormal' illness behavior may usefully be extended to include individual differences in responses regardless of current health status. Furthermore, the potential to further characterize illness behavior as either dispositional (trait) or situational (state) emerges as a fruitful area for future analyses. Specifically, longitudinal studies are recommended to determine the causal links between health events and illness behavior profiles.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2017-03-01

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  • The American Journal of Health Behavior seeks to improve the quality of life through multidisciplinary health efforts in fostering a better understanding of the multidimensional nature of both individuals and social systems as they relate to health behaviors.

    The Journal aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the impact of personal attributes, personality characteristics, behavior patterns, social structure, and processes on health maintenance, health restoration, and health improvement; to disseminate knowledge of holistic, multidisciplinary approaches to designing and implementing effective health programs; and to showcase health behavior analysis skills that have been proven to affect health improvement and recovery.

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