The Relevance of Control Beliefs for Health and Aging


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In this chapter we focus on control beliefs, also referred to as perceived control or the sense of control. All involve expectancies about personal mastery and environmental contingencies that influence outcomes and performance. Individuals hold different views about whether and how much they can influence outcomes. Some believe there are things they can do to make a difference in the course of aging, and others see their influence as more limited. Such beliefs about control over aging may have their origins in childhood experiences and observations of parents and grandparents approaches and attitudes to aging, or through educational and occupational experiences with mastery or failure. The sense of control plays a pivotal role across the lifespan, functioning both as an antecedent and consequence of aging processes. Beliefs about control over the environment and abilities for self-regulation can serve a protective role and affect behaviors throughout life. As an outcome, a strong sense of control is an indicator of an adaptive set of beliefs about personal agency and effectiveness. Of particular interest in this chapter is to what extent control beliefs diminish or remain intact in response to aging-related changes. A sense of control also functions as a mechanism linked to performance in various domains, and may serve as a buffer for the deleterious effects of aging. Individual differences in conceptions of control are relatively stable throughout adulthood, yet they are malleable and responsive to situational influences
), making them a viable target for interventions.

This chapter is concerned with the beliefs that individuals hold about how much they can control various outcomes in their life including the nature of their own aging. Our key focus is individual differences in multiple components of perceived control

(self-efficacy, mastery, ability, or competence and outcome expectancies, contingency, or constraints) and how such appraisals are related to behaviors and outcomes. more specifically, the goal of this chapter is to characterize the relationship between control beliefs and health, and to examine the relevance to aging. Our review of the theoretical and empirical literature suggests that attention to the sense of control can enrich the work by researchers, policymakers, clinicians, and other scientists and practitioners interested in promoting good health and well-being in adulthood and later life.
notably, this is the first time the
Handbook of the
Psychology of Aging
contains a full chapter devoted to beliefs about control. now, more than 30 years after the first edition of this

, there is sufficient information about the role of control beliefs in relation to aging to warrant a separate chapter. This likely reflects the enormous surge in research on this topic and the demonstrated utility of the construct with its far reaching importance across domains related to health and aging (In this chapter we examine four broad issues about the perceived sense of control that are relevant in the context of health and aging (a) control is an aspect of the self that shows declines in adulthood, yet there are wide interindividual differences within age groups and variations in intra-individual changeover time b) control shows sociodemographic variations by gender, income, education, culture, and race, which may affect the nature of health and aging (c) control is associated with psychological well-being, cognitive functioning, and physical health, and there is emerging evidence regarding the mechanisms that link control with these outcome domains and (d) control is an aspect of the self that can be modified, and thus is amenable to interventions that could optimize health and aging. Before addressing these topics, we begin with a summary of the theoretical and empirical origins of the control construct.

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