LEARNING OBJECTIVES

• What is the multidimensionality of personal control?

• How do assimilation and accommodation influence behavior?

• What is primary and secondary control?

• What is the primacy of primary control over secondary control?

D

aniel did not perform as well as he thought he was going to on his psychology exam. He now had the unhappy task of trying to determine why he did poorly. Was it his fault? Was the exam too picky? To add insult to injury, Daniel needed to pick his grades up to maintain his scholarship grant. He decided the exam was too picky. This helped Daniel motivate himself to study for his next exams.

How Daniel answered such questions sheds light on how we tend to explain, or attribute, our behav­ior, as in the earlier discussion of causal attribu­tions. Among the most important ways in which we analyze the cause of events is in terms of who or what is in control in a specific situation. Personal control is the degree to which one believes that one’s performance in a situation depends on something that one personally does. A high sense of personal control implies a belief that performance is up to you, whereas a low sense of personal control implies that your performance is under the influence of forces other than your own.

Personal control has become an extremely important idea in a wide variety of settings because of the way in which it guides behavior and relates to well-being (Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Brandstadter, 1997; Lachman, 2006; Rowe & Kahn, 1997; Schulz et al., 2003). For example, it is thought to play a role in memory performance (see Chapter 6),
in intelligence (see Chapter 7), in depression (see Chapter 4), and in adjustment to and survival in institutions (see Chapter 5).