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The purpose of this descriptive study of 375 subjects having diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis or arthritis-related conditions was to describe learned response to chronic illness experience of 92 subjects who were receiving disability payments and of 283 subjects who were not. Differences between the two groups were determined for background influences on learning, disease characteristics and on learned response to chronic illness. Differences were found for age, gender, ethnic origin, income and diagnoses. Differences in learned response were described using the Self-Help model. The model depicts a process comprised of factors that decrease self-help and life quality as well as factors that increase learning a self-help response, thus leading to greater life quality. Those receiving disability payments had higher perceived illness severity and dependency and lower uncertainty and self-help. Findings provide a description of the dynamics of how life quality is maintained in the face of severe disease.