The Role of Personal Control in Adaptive Functioning

Suzanne C. Thompson

in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology

Second edition

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780195187243
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
The Role of Personal Control in Adaptive Functioning

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  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology



A sense of personal control is an important resource that helps people maintain emotional stability and successfully negotiate their way through life. People foster their perceived control by focusing on reachable goals, creating new avenues for control, and accepting difficult-to-change circumstances. In general, perceived control need not be realistic in order to have beneficial effects, although in the area of health promotion, overestimating one's control can reduce the motivation to engage in protection. Research on ethnic differences in the benefits of a sense of personal control suggests that those from more collectivistic cultures or subcultures may be less benefited by a sense of personal control, relying instead on a socially derived sense of control. Successful interventions to enhance personal control include programs that bolster coping skills, give options and decisions to participants, and provide training that encourages attributions to controllable factors. Future research should further explore ethnic differences in the effects of personal control, the consequences of unrealistic control perceptions, and interventions to enhance the sense of control.

Keywords: acceptance; control motivation; ethnic differences; interventions; perceived control

Article.  5645 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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