The Benefits of Feeling in Control as We Age

From Pyschology Today Author, Arash Emamzadeh:

"Recent research by Robinson and Lachman of Brandeis University shows that higher perception of control results in greater cognitive performance, and that this is mediated through physical activity.

Perceived control

Perceived control refers to an individual’s perception of her ability to bring about desired outcomes and prevent undesirable ones.

For example, an employee who believes that working hard would soon result in recognition and advancement, has high perceived control; if, on the other hand, she believes that despite working hard she might get fired any day and that as a result she will be unemployed for a very long time, she has a comparably lower sense of control.

High perceived control is associated better health, wealth, wisdom, life satisfaction, optimism, cognitive performance (e.g., better memory or ability to pursue goals), and lower levels of depression and less functional limitations; people with lower income and those in lower social positions typically have a lower sense of control over their lives, though ones who nevertheless maintain high levels of perceived control appear to have similar health status as individuals with higher income.2

The relationship between perceived control and various outcomes, however, appears to be reciprocal and cyclic.1

For instance, an employee who believes that she may get fired any day, is more likely to experience stress, anxiety, and memory problems. These mental and emotional difficulties would then affect her efforts, motivation, and her use of strategies at work. And given that she is feeling less motivated and puts in less effort, there is a higher chance that she will face disciplinary action, and as a result perhaps feel even less in control at work.

But the same cycle can also start from a different point, such as with health problems.

Take health problems and aging. A large portion of older people have health or memory difficulties and thus potentially feel less in control of their lives.

But these control related beliefs can also influence their work life, such that they begin to feel less capable and effective at work, which of course results in anxiety, depression, and putting in less effort at work....

The present research

In the present study, Robinson and Lachman were interested to find whether changes in perceived control could predict changes in  cognitive performance, and if so, via what mechanisms" ... CONTINUE READING: