Skip to main content

The Sense of Personal Control

Social—Structural Causes and Emotional Consequences

  • Chapter
Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health

Part of the book series: Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research ((HSSR))

Abstract

Some people attribute the events and conditions of their lives to their own actions, whereas others believe their lives are shaped by forces external to themselves, such as luck, chance, fate, or powerful others. The sense of personal control is the belief that you can and do master, control, and shape your own life. Its opposite is the sense of personal powerlessness. Thus, perceived control and powerlessness represent two ends of a continuum, with the belief that one can effectively alter the environment on one end of the continuum, and the belief that one’s actions cannot influence events and circumstances at the other.

Late of Duke University, died in February 1998, at the age of 26. He had recently joined the department at Duke as a Ph.D. candidate after receiving his master’s degree from The Ohio State University in 1997. He was a promising, insightful young scholar. He had already contributed greatly to our lives and to research and scholarship in the area of ethnic, cultural, and national differences in physical and psychological well-being.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

eBook
USD 9.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. D. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 49–74

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Al-Zahrani, S. S. A., & Kaplowitz, S. A. (1993). Attributional biases in individualistic and collectivistic cultures: A comparison of Americans with Saudis. Social Psychology Quarterly, 56, 223–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aneshensel, C. S. (1992). Social stress: Theory and research. Annual Review of Sociology, 18, 15–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aneshensel, C. S., Rutter, C. M., & Lachenbruch, P. A. (1991). Social structure, stress, and mental health: Competing conceptual and analytic models American Sociological Review, 56, 166–178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baltes, P. B. (1987). Theoretical propositions of life-span developmental psychology: On the dynamics between growth and decline. Developmental Psychology, 23, 611–626.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Beck, A. T. (1972). Depression: Causes and treatment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Benassi, Victor A., Sweeney, P. D., & Dufour, C. L. (1988). Is there a relationship between locus of control orientation and depression? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97, 357–366.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bergmann, B. (1986). The economic emergence of women. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bird, C. E., & Ross, C. E. (1993). Houseworkers and paid workers: Qualities of the work and effects on personal control. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55, 913–925.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Braverman, H. (1974). Labor and monopoly capital: The degradation of work in the twentieth century. New York: Monthly Review Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brewin, C. R., & Shapiro, D. A. (1984). Beyond locus of control: Attribution of responsibility for positive and negative outcomes. British Journal of Psychology, 75, 43–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bulman, R. J., & Wortman, C. B. (1977). Attributions of blame and coping in the real world: Severe accident victims react to their lot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 351–363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown, B. B. (1978). Social and psychological correlates of help-seeking behavior among urban adults. Journal of Community Psychology, 6, 425–439.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caster, D. U., & Parsons, O. A. (1977). Locus of control in alcoholics and treatment outcome. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 38, 2087–2095.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coleman, L. M., Antonucci, T. C., Adelmann, P. K., & Crohan, S. E. (1987). Social roles in the lives of middle-aged and older black women. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 761–771.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crystal, S., & Shea, D. (1990). Cumulative advantage, cumulative disadvantage, and inequality among elderly people. Gerontologist, 10, 437–443.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Downey, G., & Moen, P. (1987). Personal efficacy, income and family transitions: A longitudinal study of women heading households. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 28, 320–333.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elder, G. H. (1994). Time, human agency, and social change: Perspectives on the life course. Social Psychology Quarterly, 57, 4–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elder, G. H., & Liker, J. K. (1982). Hard times in women’s lives: Historical influences Across forty years. American Journal of Sociology, 88, 241–266.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Erikson, K. (1986). On work and alienation. American Sociological Review, 51, 1–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Featherman, D. L. (1983). The life-span perspective in social science research. In P. B. Baltes & O.G. Brim, Jr. (Eds.), Life-span development and behavior (pp. 1–57 ). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ferree, M. M. (1976). Working class jobs: Housework and paid work as sources of satisfaction. Social Problems, 23, 431–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gecas, V. (1989). The social psychology of self-efficacy. Annual Review of Sociology, 15, 291–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Golin, S., Sweeney, P. D., & Shaeffer, D. E. (1981). The causality of causal attributions in depression: A cross-lagged panel correlational analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 90, 14–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gove, W. R., & Geerken, M. R. (1977). The effect of children and employment on the mental health of married men and women. Social Forces, 56, 66–76.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gove, W. R., & Tudor, J. (1973). Adult sex roles and mental illness. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 812–835.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gurin, P., Gurin, G., Lao, R. C., & Beattie, M. (1969). Internal-external control in the motivational dynamics of Negro youth. Journal of Social Issues, 25, 29–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gurin, P., Gurin, G., & Morrison, B. M. (1978). Personal and ideological aspects of internal and external control. Social Psychology, 41, 275–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hiroto, D. S. (1974). Locus of control and learned helplessness. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 102, 187–193.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hughes, M., & Demo, D. H. (1989). Self-perceptions of black Americans: Self-esteem and personal efficacy. American Journal of Sociology, 95, 132–159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hui, H. C., & Triandis, H. C. (1986). Individualism-collectivism: A study of cross-cultural researchers. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 17, 225–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hulbary, W. (1975). Race, deprivation, and adolescent self-image. Social Science Quarterly, 56, 105–114.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hunt, J. G., & Hunt, L. L. (1977). Race inequality and self-image: Identity maintenance and identity diffusion. Sociology and Social Research, 61, 539–559.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hyman, H. B. (1966). The value systems of different classes: A social psychological contribution to the analysis of stratification. In R. Bendix & S. M. Lipset (Eds.), Class, status and power: Social stratification in comparative perspective ( 2nd ed., pp. 488–499 ). New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inkeles, A., & Smith, D. (1974). Becoming modern: Individual change in six developing countries. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kohn, M. L. (1972). Class, family and schizophrenia. Social Forces, 50, 295–302.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kohn, M. L. (1976). Occupational structure and alienation. American Journal of Sociology, 82, 111–130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kohn, M. L., Naoi, A., Schoenbach, C., Schooler, C., & Slomczynski, K. M. (1990). Position in the class structure and psychological functioning in the United States, Japan, and Poland. American Journal of Sociology, 95, 964–1008.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kohn, M. L., & Schooler, C. (1982). Job conditions and personality: A longitudinal assessment of their reciprocal effects. American Journal of Sociology, 87, 1257–1286.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krause, N., & Stryker, S. (1984). Stress and well-being: The buffering role of locus of control beliefs. Social Science and Medicine, 18, 783–790.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lachman, M. E. (1986). Personal control in later life: Stability, change, and cognitive correlates. In M. M. Baltes & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), The psychology of control and aging (pp 207–236 ). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levenson, H. (1973). Multidimensional locus of control in psychiatric patients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 41, 397–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McLaughlin, S. D., & Micklin, M. (1983). The timing of the first birth and changes in personal efficacy. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45, 47–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J. (1995). Age and the sense of control. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58, 31–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (1983). Paranoia and the structure of powerlessness. American Sociological Review, 48, 228–239

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (1984). Mexican culture and its emotional contradictions. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 25, 2–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (1986). Social patterns of distress. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 23–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (1989). Social causes of psychological distress. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (1990a). The consolation prize theory of alienation. American Journal of Sociology, 95, 1505–1535.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (19906). Control or defense? Depression and the sense of control over good and bad outcomes. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 31, 71–86.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (1991). Eliminating defense and agreement bias from measures of the sense of control: A 2 × 2 index. Social Psychology Quarterly, 54, 127–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (1996). Fundamental analysis in research on well-being: Distress and the sense of control. Gerontologist, 36, 584–594.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirowsky, J., Ross, C. E., & Van Willigen, M. (1996). Instrumentalism in the land of opportunity: Socioeconomic causes and emotional consequences. Social Psychology Quarterly, 59, 322–337.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • O’Rand, A. M. ( 1994, August). The precious and the precocious: Understanding cumulative dis/advantage over the life course. Paper presented at the 89th American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pearlin, L. I., Menaghan, E. G., Lieberman, M. A., & Mullan, J. T. (1981). The stress process. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 22, 337–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pearlin, L. I., & Schooler, C. (1978). The structure of coping. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 19, 221.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1984). Causal explanations as a risk factor for depression: Theory and evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 347–374.

    Google Scholar 

  • Porter, J. R., & Washington, R. E. (1979). Minority identity and self-esteem. Annual Review of Sociology, 19, 139–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodin, J. (1986). Health, control, and aging. In M. M. Baltes & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), The psychology of control and aging (pp. 139–165 ). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenbaum, M., & Hadari, D. (1985). Personal efficacy, external locus of control, and perceived contingency of parental reinforcement among depressed, paranoid, and normal subjects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 539–547.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosenberg, M. (1979). Conceiving the self. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenfield, S. (1989). The effects of women’s employment: Personal control and sex differences in mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 30, 77–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ross, C. E. (1990). Emotional consequences of various attributions of success. Sociological Focus, 23, 10 1113.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ross, C. E. (1991). Marriage and the sense of control. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 831–838.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ross, C. E., & Bird, C. E. (1994). Sex stratification and health lifestyle: Consequences for men’s and women’s perceived health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 161–178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (1989). Explaining the social patterns of depression: Control and problem-solving-or support and talking. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 30, 206–219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (1992). Households, employment, and the sense of control. Social Psychology Quarterly, 55, 217–235.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ross, C. E., Mirowsky, J., & Cockerham, W. C. (1983). Social class, Mexican culture, and fatalism: Their effects on psychological distress. American Journal of Community Psychology, 11, 383–399.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ross, C. E., & Wu, C.-L. (1995). The links between education and health. American Sociological Review, 60, 719–745.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ross, C. E., & Wu, C.-L. (1996). Education, age, and the cumulative advantage in health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37, 104–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal vs. external control of reinforcements. Psychological Monographs, 80, 1–28.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sastry, J., & Ross, C. E. (1998). Asian ethnicity and the sense of personal control. Social Psychology Quarterly, 61, 101–120.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schwalbe, M. L., & Staples, C. L. (1991). Gender differences in sources of self-esteem. Social Psychology Quarterly, 54, 158–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seeman, M. (1959). On the meaning of alienation. American Sociological Review, 24, 783–791.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seeman, M. (1983). Alienation motifs in contemporary theorizing: The hidden continuity of classic themes. Social Psychology Quarterly, 46, 171–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seeman, M., Seeman, A. Z., & Budros, A. (1988). Powerlessness, work, and community: A longitudinal study of alienation and alcohol use. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 29, 185–198.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seligman, M. E. P. (1975). Helplessness. San Francisco: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, M. C., & Walsh, E. J. (1979). Explanations of black self-esteem: Some empirical tests. Social Psychology Quarterly, 42, 242–253.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thoits, R. A. (1987). Gender and martial status differences in control and distress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 28, 7–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Turner, R. J., & Noh, S. (1983). Class and psychological vulnerability among women: The significance of social support and personal control. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 2–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wade, T. J., Thompson, V. D., Tashakori, A., & Valente, E. (1989). A longitudinal analysis of sex and race differences in predictors of adolescent self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences, 10, 717–729.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wethington, E., & Kessler, R. C. (1986). Perceived support, received support, and adjustment to stressful life events. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 27, 78–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wheaton, B. (1980). The sociogenesis of psychological disorder: An attributional theory. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 21, 100–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wheaton, B. (1983). Stress, personal coping resources, and psychiatric symptoms: An investigation of interactive models. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 208–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wheaton, B. (1985). Personal resources and mental health: Can there be too much of a good thing? In J. R. Greenley (Ed.), Research in community and mental health (pp. 139–184 ). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolinsky, F. D., & Stump, T. E. (1996). Age and the sense of control among older adults. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 51B, S217 - S220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 1999 Springer Science+Business Media New York

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Ross, C.E., Sastry, J. (1999). The Sense of Personal Control. In: Aneshensel, C.S., Phelan, J.C. (eds) Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-36223-1_18

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-36223-1_18

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Boston, MA

  • Print ISBN: 978-0-387-32516-3

  • Online ISBN: 978-0-387-36223-6

  • eBook Packages: Springer Book Archive

Publish with us

Policies and ethics