Multidimensionality of Personal Control
The general consensus about personal control is that it is multidimensional (Lachman, Rosnick, & Rocke, 2009; Soederberg, Miller, & Lachman, 1999a). Specifically, one’s sense of control depends on which domain, such as intelligence or health, is being assessed. As can be seen from Figure 8.5, Grob, Little, and Wanner (1999) found an increase for perceived control for social (harmony within a close relationship) and personal (personal appearance) issues up to early middle age (e. g., middle 30s), and thereafter there was a general decline into old age. However, perceived control over societal issues (e. g., a natural environmental problem such as the demise of forests from pollution) was low across the adult life span, with a slight decrease in older adulthood.
More recently Lachman and colleagues (2009) also found interesting changes in control beliefs depending upon the domain being examined. For example, they found no changes in a sense of control over one’s health up to the early 70s. However, when
Figure 8.5 Developmental trajectories of the four control-related judgments across three life domains.
Source: Grob, A., Little, T. D., & Wanner, B. (1999). Control judgments across the lifespan. International Journal of Behavioral Development 23, p. 844. Copyright © 1999 Reprinted with permission from Sage Publications.
older adults transition from the early 70s to the mid70s and 80s, their sense of control over their health declines. This makes sense given that the oldest old experience accumulated losses in their reserved capacity to function. Similarly, it is only the oldest old that show a decline in control over their well-being. Finally, these researchers found that maintaining a sense of control throughout adulthood is linked to better quality of social relationships, better health, and higher cognitive functioning. They suggest that sense of control may operate as a protective factor for one’s well-being in the face of declining health and other losses associated with the oldest old.
In an academic context such as college, attributions of control are particularly important in determining the causes of success and failure in school. It would be interesting to explore the notion of control in regard to class performance among older and younger students. The exercise in the Discovering Development feature helps to examine this question.