Original Paper

Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 384-398

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Is it adaptive to disengage from demands of social change? Adjustment to developmental barriers in opportunity-deprived regions

  • Martin J. TomasikAffiliated withCenter for Applied Developmental Science, Friedrich Schiller University Email author 
  • , Rainer K. SilbereisenAffiliated withDepartment of Developmental Psychology and Center for Applied Developmental Science, Friedrich Schiller University
  • , Jutta HeckhausenAffiliated withSchool of Social Ecology, University of California at Irvine


This paper investigates how individuals deal with demands of social and economic change in the domains of work and family when opportunities for their mastery are unfavorable. Theoretical considerations and empirical research suggest that with unattainable goals and unmanageable demands motivational disengagement and self-protective cognitions bring about superior outcomes than continued goal striving. Building on research on developmental deadlines, this paper introduces the concept of developmental barriers to address socioeconomic conditions of severely constrained opportunities in certain geographical regions. Mixed-effects methods were used to model cross-level interactions between individual-level compensatory secondary control and regional-level opportunity structures in terms of social indicators for the economic prosperity and family friendliness. Results showed that disengagement was positively associated with general life satisfaction in regions that were economically devastated and has less than average services for families. In regions that were economically well off and family-friendly, the association was negative. Similar results were found for self-protection concerning domain-specific satisfaction with life. These findings suggest that compensatory secondary control can be an adaptive way of mastering a demand when primary control is not possible.


Developmental regulation Primary and secondary control Life-span theory of control Disengagement Subjective well-being Social change Globalization Social ecology Context Opportunity structures