We assessed beliefs about the symptoms, causes, and prevention of cardiovascular disease in population-based surveys of black and white Twin Cities adults in 1985-86. Whites had a generally higher awareness of heart attack symptoms than did blacks; 72% of blacks and 85% of whites mentioned chest pain as a likely symptom. Sixty-five percent of blacks and 76% of whites correctly offered at least one of the three major, modifiable risk factors (smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol in blood or diet) as likely causes of cardiovascular disease. However, less than 5% of respondents mentioned all three major risk factors. The most frequent response offered as a cause was stress/worry (54% of blacks, 51% of whites). Individuals with higher educational levels generally responded more correctly than those with less education. After accounting for differences in educational level, blacks demonstrated a higher awareness of hypertension as a risk factor, whereas whites were more knowledgeable about smoking and cholesterol. In light of the high percentage of adults still lacking awareness about cardiovascular risk, public education about prevention should continue. Such efforts are broadly desirable but may be most effectively targeted toward minorities and groups with less education, in whom awareness is low and risk of disease is high.