Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 170–179 | Cite as

Knowing when to let go at the entrance to university: Beneficial effects of compensatory secondary control after failure

  • Martin J. TomasikEmail author
  • Katariina Salmela-Aro
Original Paper


We present results on the beneficial effects of compensatory secondary control strategies in a sample who failed the entrance exam at an university. Based on the action phase model of developmental regulation we assumed that failing the exam represents the passing of a developmental deadline. We thus hypothesized that compensatory secondary control is associated with a more positive trajectory of satisfaction with life. Multi-group structural equation models showed that (1) compensatory secondary control was associated with higher levels of and a steeper increase in satisfaction with life in the group who failed but not for the group who passed and that (2) in the group who failed the exam, the slope coefficient indicated a significantly steeper increase of satisfaction with life in those who reported higher compensatory secondary control. These results show that letting go a goal can sometimes be more adaptive than persistent goal striving.


Compensatory secondary control Disengagement Entrance exam Primary and secondary control Satisfaction with life 



We are grateful to all participants in this study. This paper was written during the fellowship of the first author in the “International Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme for the Comparative Study of Productive Youth Development: Mapping PATHWAYS to Adulthood” funded by the Jacobs Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Applied Developmental Science at the University of JenaJenaGermany
  2. 2.Helsinki Collegium for Advanced StudiesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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