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Mental Health

We Need Control in Our Lives, and Here’s Why

Control refers to the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of event. Part of our fundamental human nature is the need to control our individual circumstances. Generally speaking, there are two different ways in which we can view the extent of personal control over our lives: internally and externally.

People with an internal locus of control believe that they are in control of their own actions and decisions. They tend to be:

  • Confident in their abilities to succeed
  • Leaders
  • In control of their behavior
  • Eager to learn
  • Better at dealing with stress and challenges

People with an external locus of control think that their behaviors and actions stem from luck or fate. They tend to be:

  • Less responsible
  • More prone to stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Quick to blame others

Previous studies have shown that people with an internal locus of control have greater feelings of happiness, confidence, and capability than people with an external locus of control. A perceived loss of control has even been linked to illnesses such as depression, diabetes, and heart disease.

One early study from researchers Ellen Langer and Judith Roden tested the importance of control. Their experiment was based around the previous idea that when people are experiencing stressful situations, negative impacts can be minimized if the participants are led to believe they have some amount of control over their situation.

The participants in the study were 91 occupants of a reputable nursing home. The participants were divided among two groups: a responsibility-induced experimental group and a control group. The responsibility-induced group was told that they had the responsibility of caring for themselves and deciding how they should spend their time, while the control group was told that the staff at the home wanted to make their lives fuller and more interesting.

The results of the study reveal that residents in the increased-responsibility group felt happier, were more active, and were more social than those in the control group. The experimental group’s condition improved significantly over the 3 weeks of the study, while the control group’s condition declined. More importantly, an 18-month follow-up study from the same researchers recorded the long-term impacts of having a greater sense of personal control. Only 15% of the experimental group had passed away, compared to 30% of the control group, further exemplifying the inter-dependency of biological and psychological health.

Well, what does this mean for teens? Research suggests that having a greater sense of personal responsibility improves attitude and overall quality of life. Simply being mindful and appreciating that you always have a choice is a simple yet effective step towards boosting your overall confidence and happiness. Although there may be some things out of your hands (like college admissions and standardized test scores), focus on what you can control: your actions.

Photo: Tim Gouw via Unsplash

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Christine is an incoming freshman at Vanderbilt University. She is passionate about medicine and enjoys writing about health-related topics. In her free time, you can find her on the softball field or listening to podcasts.

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