Background Expressed emotion (EE) is a concept reflecting the emotional atmosphere of the home environment. Specific components of EE, namely criticism, hostility and emotional over-involvement, have been found to be important predictors of relapse for schizophrenic patients. The main aim of this study was to examine the predictive power of patient and caregiver characteristics and caregivers' perceptions of frequency, coping, distress/discomfort, control of symptom behaviours by the patient, and attributions on locus of causality for the development of the illness on two components of EE (criticism/hostility and emotional over-involvement) in a sample of major caregivers of Turkish schizophrenic patients. Methods Seventy-two caregivers of schizophrenic patients were administered a set of questionnaires tapping socio-demographic and illness-related variables, the family questionnaire tapping perceived frequency, distress/discomfort, coping and control of symptom behaviours, causal attributions for illness and, finally, the Expressed Emotion Scale in the hospital setting. Results The results showed that caregivers' perceptions of coping with specific symptom behaviours decreased criticism/hostility (C/H), whereas perceptions of higher frequency of symptom behaviours increased C/H. For emotional over-involvement (EOI), the number of individuals living in the household, being the mother, father or the spouse, perceptions of coping with symptom behaviours and reported distress/discomfort about symptom behaviours were significant predictors. Conclusions Caregivers' perceptions of their ability to cope with symptom behaviours and their reported distress due to these behaviours are important variables related to components of EE and need to be targets in intervention studies. The cultural and clinical implications of the results for the management of schizophrenia and for support for the caregivers are discussed.