I received my PhD in 1956 from the University, of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and am a Board of Governors Professor of Health Psychology at Rutgers; I’ve been at Rutgers since 1988. I am also currently the director of the Center for the Study of Health Beliefs and Behavior, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Mind Body Center that examines interpersonal communication between practitioners and patients, including practitioners’ abilities to infer and use patients’ common-sense, experientially based views of illness to create shared models for chronic illness management.
As Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, my students and I studied the effects of preparing patients for the concrete experience of noxious medical examinations and behavioral strategies for coping with these experiences as ways of reducing distress and need for medication during these examinations. The integration of the concepts arising from the preparation studies within the earlier, Parallel Response Model led to the creation of the Common-Sense Model of Illness Representations. This latter model provided a detailed representation of the cognitive and affective content of illness representations, the procedures involved in their construction, and the selection of coping procedures and creation of action plans for their implementation.
My current research builds upon the Common-Sense Model of Illness Representations and focuses on the schemata underlying the heuristics and appraisal of information involved in self-management of chronic illnesses. For example, illnesses that are experienced by episodic attacks such as asthma and congestive heart failure are often perceived as acute or cyclic although they are chronic. People often fail to manage appropriately chronic, asymptomatic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes as they feel well and can readily believe they are healthy. Other schemata can be defined by specific symptom patterns. Chest pain that may be caused by multiple conditions is readily interpreted and responded to as heart disease, and hyper-vigilant self monitoring is often a product of underlying beliefs that one has a cancer. We are actively involved in the study of models of mental illness, particularly depression and its treatments, and how depression is elicited by and effects the management of physical illness. The theoretical principles underlying this model of self regulation are being applied to a wide range of outcomes including the management of ongoing health threats, end of life planning, and preventive health behaviors.