Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 1048–1057 | Cite as

‘Folk Theories’ About the Causes of Insomnia

  • Allison G. HarveyEmail author
  • Adriane Soehner
  • Tania Lombrozo
  • Lynda Bélanger
  • Jamie Rifkin
  • Charles M. Morin
Original Article


The present study investigates ‘folk theories’ about the causes of insomnia. Participants with insomnia (n = 69) completed a qualitative and quantitative assessment of their folk theories. The qualitative assessment was to speak aloud for 1 min in response to: ‘What do you think causes your insomnia?’. The quantitative assessment involved completing the ‘Causal Attributions of My Insomnia Questionnaire’ (CAM-I), developed for this study. The three most common folk theories for both the causes of one’s own insomnia as well as insomnia in others were ‘emotions’, ‘thinking patterns’ and ‘sleep-related emotions’. Interventions targeting these factors were also perceived as most likely to be viable treatments. Seventy-five percent of the folk theories of insomnia investigated with the CAM-I were rated as more likely to be alleviated by a psychological versus a biological treatment. The results are consistent with research highlighting that folk theories are generally coherent and inform a range of judgments. Future research should focus on congruence of ‘folk theories’ between treatment providers and patients, and the role of folk theories in treatment choice, engagement, compliance and outcome.


Insomnia Folk theories Causal attributions 



This project was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant RO1MH079188. We are grateful to Kerrie Hein & Manon Lamy (Project Co-ordinators), Jennifer Kanady, Jason Lee, Kate Kaplan & Eleanor McGlinchey (Assessors), Lisa S. Talbot, Polina Eidelman, Simon Beaulieu-Bonneau & Émilie Fortier-Brochu (Therapists) and Nicole Short (Coder) for their assistance with this study.

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Morin serves on consulting/advisory boards for Merck, Valeant, Purdue, Novartis, Eli Lilly and the speaker’s bureau for Valeant and Merck. The other authors have no conflict of interest disclosures.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allison G. Harvey
    • 1
    Email author
  • Adriane Soehner
    • 1
  • Tania Lombrozo
    • 1
  • Lynda Bélanger
    • 2
  • Jamie Rifkin
    • 3
  • Charles M. Morin
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.École de PsychologieUniversité LavalQuebecCanada
  3. 3.Los Angeles County Department of Mental HealthLos AngelesUSA

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