Current Psychology

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 5–25 | Cite as

Perceived control and health

  • Kenneth A. Wallston
  • Barbara Strudler Wallston
  • Shelton Smith
  • Carolyn J. Dobbins
Articles Theoretical Review


Perceived control (PC) is defined as thebelief that one can determine one’s own internal states and behavior, influence one’s environment, and/or bring about desired outcomes. Two important dimensions of PC are delineated: (1) whether the object of control is located in the past or the future and (2) whether the object of control is over outcome, behavior, or process. A variety of constructs and measures of PC (e.g., efficacy, attribution, and locus of control) are discussed in relation to these dimensions and selected studies are reviewed. The issues, controversies, and limits of the research on perceived control and health are addressed in terms of the antecedents and consequences of perceived control. Investigations should clearly conceptualize the object of perceived control, use measures that match the conceptualization, and when attempting to manipulate control, directly measure perceived control. The relation between PC and health outcomes is complex, and different aspects of PC may interact to affect health outcomes.


Attributional Style Control Belief Efficacy Belief Current Psychological Research Verbal Persuasion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Averill, J.R. (1973). Personal control over aversive stimuli and its relationship to stress.Psychological Bulletin, 80, 286–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (1977a).Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. (1977b). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change.Psychological Review, 84, 191–215.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency.American Psychologist, 37, 122–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blittner, M., Goldberg, J., & Merbaum, M. (1978). Cognitive self-control factors in the reduction of smoking behavior.Behavior Therapy, 9, 553–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brickman, P., Rabinowitz, V.C., Karuza, J. Jr., Coates, D., Cohn, E., & Kidder, K. (1982). Models of helping and coping.American Psychologist, 37, 368–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burbach, D.J., & Peterson, L. (1986). Children’s concepts of physical illness: A review and critique of the cognitive and developmental literature.Health Psychology, 5, 307–325.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chambliss, C.A., & Murray, E.J. (1979). Cognitive procedures for smoking reduction: Symptom attribution versus efficacy attribution.Cognitive Therapy Research, 3, 91–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chein, I. (1972).Science of behavior and the image of man. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, S. (1980). After-effects of stress on human performance and social behavior: A review of research and theory.Psychological Bulletin, 88, 82–108.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Collins, B.E. (1974). Four components of the Rotter internal-external scale: Beliefs in a difficult world, a just world, a predictable world, and a politically responsive world.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29, 381–391.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Croog, S.H., & Richards, N.P. (1977). Health beliefs and smoking patterns in heart patients and their wives: A longitudinal study.American Journal of Public Health, 67, 921–930.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DeVellis, R.F., DeVellis, B.M., Wallston, B.S., & Wallston, K.A. (1980). Epilepsy and learned helplessness.Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 1, 241–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Derogatis, L.R., Abeloff, M.D., & Melisaratos, N. (1979) Psychological coping mechanisms and survival time in metastatic breast cancer.Journal of the American Medical Association, 242, 1504–1508.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DuCette, J., & Keane, A. (1984). “Why me?”: An attributional analysis of a major illness.Research in Nursing and Health, 7, 257–264.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dobbins, C.J. (1986). Attributions and chronic disease: A formulation of the issues. Unpublished major area paper, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  17. Dobbins, C.J., Brown, G.K., & Wallston, B.S. (1986). Stress process of work interference in rheumatoid arthritis: Effects on global health and depression. Unpublished manuscript, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  18. Dohrenwend, B.S., & Martin, J.L. (1979). Personal versus situational determination of anticipation and control of the occurence of stressful life events.American Journal of Community Psychology, 7, 453–468.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elder, R.G. (1973). Social class and lay explanations of the etiology of arthritis.Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 28–38.Google Scholar
  20. Folkman, S. (1984). Personal control and stress and coping processes: A theoretical analysis.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 839–852.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fox, B.H. (1983). Current theory of psychogenic effects on cancer incidence and prognosis.Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 1, 17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Garber, J. & Hollon, S.D. (1980). Universal vs. personal helplessness in depression: Belief in uncontrollability or incompetence?Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 89, 56–66.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Glass, D.C., Reim, B., & Singer, J.E. (1971). Behavioral consequences of adaptation to controllable and uncontrollable noise.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 244–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hansen, R.E., & O’Leary, V.E. (1985). Sex-determined attributions. In V.E. O’Leary, R.K. Unger, & B.S. Wallston (Eds.)Women, gender and social psychology. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  25. Harris, B., & Harvey, J.H. (1975). Self-attributed choice as a function of the consequences of a decision.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 1013–1019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Harvey, J.H., & Harris, B. (1975). Determinants of perceived choice and the relationship between perceived choice and expectancy about feelings of internal control.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 101–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Harvey, J.H., & Weary, G. (1984). Current issues in attribution theory and research.Annual Review of Psychology, 35, 427–459.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jamison, R.N., Burish, T.G., & Wallston, K.S. (1986). Psychogenic factors in predicting survival of breast cancer patients. Unpublished manuscript. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  29. Jenkins, H.M., & Ward, W.C. (1965). Judgment of contingency between responses and outcomes.Psychological Monographs, 79, (1, Whole No. 594).Google Scholar
  30. Johnson, J.E. (1975). Stress reduction through sensation information. In I. Sarason & C. Spielberger (Eds.),Stress and anxiety, Volume 2. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  31. Jones, E.E., & Nisbett, R.E. (1972). The actor and the observer: Divergent perceptions of the causes of behavior. In E.E. Jones et al. (Eds.),Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behavior. Morristown, N.J.: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  32. Kanfer, F.H. (1970). Self-regulation: Research, issues, and speculations. In C. Neuringer & J.L. Michaels (Eds.),Behavior Modifications in Clinical Psychology New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
  33. Kaplan, R.M., Atkins, C.J., & Reinsch, S. (1984). Specific efficacy expectations mediate exercise compliance in patients with COPD.Health Psychology, 3, 223–242.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kelley, H.H., & Michela, J.L. (1980). Attribution theory and research.Annual Review of Psychology, 31, 457–501.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kelly, G. (1955).Psychology of personal constructs. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  36. King, J.B. (1984). Illness attributions and the health belief model.Health Education Quarterly, 10, 287–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kobasa, S.C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1–11.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kobasa, S.C. (1982). The hardy personality: Toward a social psychology of stress and health. In G.S. Sanders & J. Suls (Eds.),Social psychology of health and illness. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  39. Kristiansen, C.M. (1984). Preventive health behavior: A social-psychological analysis. Unpub. Ph.D. diss. University of Exeter, England.Google Scholar
  40. Kruglanski, A.W., & Cohen, M. (1974). Attributing freedom in the decision context. Effects of the choice alternatives, degree of commitment, and predecision uncertainty.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 178–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Langer, E.J. (1983).Psychology of control. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Langer, E., & Rodin, J. (1976). Effects of choice and enhanced personal responsibility for the aged: A field experiment in an institutional setting.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 191–198.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lau, R.R. (1984). Dynamics of the attribution process.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 1017–1928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lau, R.R. (in press). Beliefs about control and health behavior. In D. Gochman (Ed.)Health behavior: Emerging research perspectives. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  45. Lau, R.R., & Ware, J.E., Jr. (1979). Refinements in the measurement of health-specific locus-of-control beliefs.Medical Care, 19, 1147–1158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lefcourt, H.M. (1982).Locus of control: Current trends in theory and research, second edition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  47. Levenson, H. (1974). Activism and powerful others: Distinctions within the concept of internal-external control.Journal of Personality Assessment, 38, 377–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Leventhal, H. (1970). Findings and theory in the study of fear communications. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.),Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (vol. 5). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  49. Miller, D.T., & Ross, M. (1975). Self-serving biases in the attribution of causality: Fact or fiction?Psychological Bulletin, 82, 213–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Miller, S.M. (1979). Controllability and human stress: Method, evidence, and theory.Behavior Research and Therapy, 17, 287–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mills, T., & Krantz, D.S. (1979). Information, choice, and reactions to stress: A field experiment in a blood bank with laboratory analogue.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 608–620.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mirels, H.L. (1970). Dimensions of internal vs. external control.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 34, 226–228.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Mumma, C., & McCorkle, R. (1982–83). Causal attribution and life-threatening disease.International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 12, 311–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Nagy, V.T., & Wolfe, G.R. (1983). Chronic illness and health locus of control beliefs.Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 1, 58–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Nelson, D.W., & Cohen, L.H. (1983). Locus of control and control perceptions and the relationship between life stress and psychological disorder.American Journal of Community Psychology, 11, 705–722.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nicki, R.M., Remington, R.E., & MacDonald, G.A. (1985). Self-efficacy, nicotine-fading/self-efficacy monitoring and cigarette smoking behavior.Behavior Research and Therapy, 22, 477–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Padilla, G.V., Grant, M.M., Rains, B.L., Hansen, B.C., Bergstrom, N., Wong, H.L., Hanson, R., & Kubo, W. (1981). Distress reduction and the effects of preparatory teaching films and patient control.Research in Nursing and Health, 4, 375–387.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Peters, B. (1978). School-aged children’s beliefs about causality of illness: A review of the literature.Maternal Child-Nursing Journal, 7, 143–154.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Peterson, C. (1980). A sense of control over one’s life: A review of recent literature. Paper presented at the Social Science Research Council’s Meeting on “The Self and Personal Control over the Life Span,” October 3–6, 1980, New York City.Google Scholar
  60. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (1984). Causal explanations as a risk factor for depression: Theory and evidence.Psychological Review, 91, 347–374.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Peterson, C., Semmel, A., von Baeyer, C., Abramson, L.Y., Metalsky, G.I., & Seligman, M.E.P. (1982). The attributional style questionnaire.Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6, 287–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Pill, R., & Stott, N.C. (1982). Concepts of illness causation and responsibility: Some preliminary data from a sample of working class mothers.Social Science and Medicine, 16, 43–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Pill, R., & Stott, N.C.H. (1985). Choice or chance: Further evidence on ideas of illness and responsibility for health.Social Science and Medicine, 20, 981–991.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pollock, S.E. (1986). Human responses to chronic illness: Physiologic and psychosocial adaptation.Nursing Research, 35, 90–95.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Rehm, L.P. (1977). A self-control model of depression.Behavior Therapy, 8, 787–804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rhodewalt, F. (1984). Self-involvement, self-attribution, and the type A coronary-prone behavior pattern.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 662–670.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Rhodewalt, F., & Davison, J. Jr. (1983). Reactance and the coronary-prone behavior pattern: The role of self-attribution in responses to reduced behavioral freedom.Journal of Personality and Psychology, 44, 220–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rodin, J. (1986). Aging and health: Effects of the sense of control.Science, 233, 1271–1276.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rodin, J., & Langer, E. (1977). Long-term effects of a control-relevant intervention with the institutionalized aged.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 897–902.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Roskam, S. (1985). Health locus of control beliefs in chronic illness. Unpublished major area paper. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  71. Roskam, S. (1986). Application of a health locus of control typology approach towards predicting depression and medical adherence in rheumatoid arthritis. Unpub. Ph.D. diss. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  72. Rothbaum, F., Weisz, J.R., & Snyder, S.S. (1982). Changing the world and changing the self. A two-process model of perceived control.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 5–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rotter, J.B. (1954).Social learning and clinical psychology. Englewood Cliffs: NJ: Prentice Hall.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rotter, J.B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement.Psychological Monographs, 80, (1 Whole No. 609).Google Scholar
  75. Rotter, J.B. (1975). Some problems and misconceptions related to the construct of internal vs. external control of reinforcement.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43, 56–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Sandler, I.N., & Lakey, B. (1982). Locus of control as a stress moderator: The role of control perceptions and social support.American Journal of Community Psychology, 10, 65–80.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Schoeneman, T.J., vanUchelen, C., Stonebrink, S., & Cheek, P.R. (1986). Expectancy, outcome, and event type: Effects of retrospective reports of attributional activity.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 12, 353–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Schulman, B.A. (1979). Active patient orientation and outcomes in hypertensive treatment.Medical Care, 17, 267–280.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schulz, R. (1976). Effects of control and predictability on the physical and psychological well-being of the institutionalized aged.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 563–573.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Schulz, R., & Hanusa, B.H. (1978). Long-term effects of control and predictability-enhancing interventions: Findings and ethical issues.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 1194–1201.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Skowronski, J.J., & Carlston, D.E. (1982). Effects of previously experienced outcomes on the desire for choice.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 689–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Smedslund, J. (1963). The concept of correlation in adults.Scandanavian Journal of Psychology, 4, 165–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Smith, M. (1984). Predicting cancer patient survival length. Unpub. masters thesis. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  84. Smith, R.A., Wallston, B.S., Wallston, K.A., Forsberg, P.R., & King, J.E. (1984). Measuring desire for control of health care processes.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 415–426.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Smith, R.A., Wallston, B.S., King, J.E., Wallston, K.A., & Zylstra, M. et al. (1986). Individual differences in control attitudes and responses to control over aspects of daily living by surgical patients. Unpub. manuscript. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TNGoogle Scholar
  86. Steiner, I.D. (1979). Three kinds of reported choice. In L.C. Perlmuter & R.A. Monty (Eds.)Choice and perceived control. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  87. Strecher, V.J., DeVellis, B.M., Becker, M.H., & Rosenstock, I.M. (1986). The role of self-efficacy in achieving health behavior change.Health Education Quarterly, 13, 73–91.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Strickland, B.R. (1978). Internal-external expectancies and health-related behaviors.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 46, 1192–1211.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Strube, M.J. (1985). Attributional style and the type A coronary-prone behavior pattern.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 500–509.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Taylor, S.E., Lichtman, R.R., & Wood, J.V. (1984). Attributions, beliefs about control, and adjustment to breast cancer.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 489–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Tennen, H., & Sharp, J.P. (1983). Control orientation and the illusion of control.Journal of Personality Assessment, 47, 369–374.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Thompson, S.C. (1981). Will it hurt less if I can control it? A complex answer to a simple question.Psychological Bulletin, 90, 89–101.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Timko, C., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1985). Attributions, vulnerability, and psychological adjustment: The case of breast cancer.Health Psychology, 4, 521–544.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Wallston, B.S., Smith, R.A., Wallston, K.A., King, J.E., Rye, P.D., & Heim, C.R. (In press). Choice and predictability in the preparation for barium enemas: A person-by-situation approach.Research in Nursing and Health.Google Scholar
  95. Wallston, B.S., & Wallston, K.A. (1978). Locus of control and health: A review of the literature.Health Education Monographs, 6, 107–117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wallston, B.S., & Wallston, K.A. (1981). Health locus of control. In H. Lefcourt (Ed.),Research with the locus of control construct. (vol. 1) New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  97. Wallston, B.S., & Wallston, K.A. (1984). Social psychological models of health behavior: An examination and interaction. In A. Baum, S. Taylor, & J.E. Singer (Eds.),Handbook of Psychology and Health, Volume IV: Social Aspects of Health. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  98. Wallston, B.S., Wallston, K.A., Kaplan, G.D., & Maides, S.A. (1976). Development and validation of the health locus of control (HLC) scales.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44, 580–585.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Wallston, K.A., Maides, S., & Wallston, B.S. (1976). Health-related information-seeking as a function of health-related locus of control and health value.Journal of Research and Personality, 10, 215–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Wallston, K.A., & O’Connor, E. (1987). The initial development and validation of the Smoking Cessation Locus of Control scale. Unpub. manuscript. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  101. Wallston, K.A., Smith, R.A., King, J.E., Forsberg, P.R., Wallston, B.S., & Nagy, V.T. (1983). Expectancies about control over health: Relationship to desire for control of health care.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9, 377–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Wallston, K.A., & Wallston, B.S. (1982). Who is responsible for your health? The construct of health locus of control. In G. Sanders & J.M. Suls (Eds.),Social psychology of health and illness. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  103. Wallston, K.A., Wallston, B.S., & DeVellis, R. (1978). Development of the multidimensional health locus of control (MHLC) scales.Health Education Monographs, 6, 160–170.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Wallston, K.A., Smith, R.A., Burish, T.G., Wallston, B.S., Rye, P.D., King, J.E., Smith, S., & O’Connell, S. (1986). Interaction of desire for control and choice of antiemetic treatment for cancer chemotherapy. Unpub. manuscript. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  105. Weidner, G. (1980). Self-handicapping following learned helplessness treatment and the type A coronary-prone behavior pattern.Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 24, 319–325.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Weiner, B. (1974).Achievement motivation and attribution theory. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  107. Weisz, J.R., & Stipek, D.J. (1982). Competence, contingency, and the development of perceived control.Human Development, 25, 250–281.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Wortman, C.B., & Dintzer, L. (1978). Is an attributional analysis of the learned helplessness phenomenon viable?: A critique of the Abramson-Seligman-Teasdale reformulation.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 75–80.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  109. Wortman, C., & Dunkel-Schetter, C. (1979). Interpersonal relationships and cancer: A theoretical analysis.Journal of Social Issues, 35, 120–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth A. Wallston
    • 1
  • Barbara Strudler Wallston
    • 1
  • Shelton Smith
    • 1
  • Carolyn J. Dobbins
    • 1
  1. 1.Health Care Research Project, School of NursingVanderbilt UniversityNashville

Personalised recommendations