Perceived Control, Motivation, & Coping

Books

Ellen A. Skinner

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  • Part I: Meta-Theoretical Assumptions

    Part II: Constructs of Control

    Part III: Antecedents of Perceived Control

    Part IV: Consequences of Perceived Control

    Part V: Development of Perceived Control

    Part VI: Intervention into the Competence System

    Part VII: Empirical Study of Perceived Control

  • SAGE Series on Individual Differences and Development

    Robert Plomin, Series Editor

    The purpose of the Sage Series on Individual Differences and Development is to provide a forum for a new wave of research that focuses on individual differences in behavioral development.

    Editorial Board

    • Dr. Paul B. Baltes

      Director, Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education

    • Dr. Dante Cicchetti

      Director, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester

    • Dr. E. Mavis Heatherington

      Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

    • Dr. Carroll E. Izard

      Professor of Psychology, University of Delaware

    • Dr. Robert B. McCall

      Director, Office of Child Development, University of Pittsburgh

    • Michael Rutter

      Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, London, England

    • Dr. Richard Snow

      Professor of Education and Psychology, Stanford University

    • Dr. Stephen J. Suomi

      Chief, Laboratory of Comparative Ethology, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

    • Dr. Elizabeth J. Susman

      Professor of Nursing and Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University

    Books in This Series

    • Volume 1 HIGH SCHOOL UNDERACHIEVERS: What Do They Achieve as Adults?

      Robert B. McCall, Cynthia Evahn, and Lynn Kratzer

    • Volume 2 GENES AND ENVIRONMENT IN PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT

      John C. Loehlin

    • Volume 3 THE NATURE OF NURTURE

      Theodore D. Wachs

    • Volume 4 YOUNG CHILDREN'S CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS: Beyond Attachment

      Judy Dunn

    • Volume 5 INFANT COGNITION: Predicting Later Intellectual Functioning

      John Colombo

    • Volume 6 GENETICS AND EXPERIENCE: The Interplay Between Nature and Nurture

      Robert Plomin

    • Volume 7 INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

      Cecilia M. Shore

    • Volume 8 PERCEIVED CONTROL, MOTIVATION, & COPING

      Ellen A. Skinner

    Copyright

    View Copyright Page

    Dedication

    This book is dedicated to my mentors. In chronological order of their appearance: Marjorie Wilkinson Skinner, Gordon B. Skinner, Larry Kurdek, Richard M. Lerner, Paul B. Baltes, and Edward L. Deci.

    “Spinoza said the eyes of the mind are proofs, but Noam regards proofs more in the way of spectacles, bringing the visions of intuition into sharper focus.”

    Rebecca Goldstein (1983, p. 47), The Mind-Body Problem

    Series Editor's Preface

    I am pleased to welcome Ellen Skinner's book to the Sage Series on Individual Differences and Development. The Series includes explorations, from the perspective of individual differences, of several areas of developmental research: environmental influences (Wachs, Plomin), young children's close relationships (Dunn), personality (Loehlin), infant cognition (Colombo), childhood language (Shore), and underachievement at school (McCall). In this book, Ellen Skinner tackles one of the most important, and most difficult, areas of developmental research. The general topic is naive causal models of control, which encompasses a wide range of constructs of control such as self-efficacy, learned helplessness, locus of control, and attribution. Perceived control has been the focus of Ellen Skinner's research and she brings to this book her characteristically thoughtful and careful approach that tames this sprawling area. What I like best is the energy, enthusiasm, and clarity that shines through the book. In an area that seems to lend itself to pedantic and dreary obfuscation, Ellen Skinner's vigorous, engaging, and no-nonsense writing style is especially stimulating. Just read the introduction and you will be hooked.

    It is a safe prediction that Ellen Skinner's book will become both a milestone of current research and a map for future research on perceived control. The future lies in the investigation of the mechanisms and limits of control in new domains, in interventions, and in development. But this is not just a specialty book. In the long run, the most valuable feature of the book is its breadth. Ellen Skinner shows how perceived control goes far beyond cognitive appraisal and engages some of the key issues in development. The book focuses on the motivational and coping links between belief systems and success or failure, and also considers the interface between perceived control and emotion, attachment, child-rearing, and education. No matter what your area of expertise, the book will stimulate your thinking. For example, the book convinced me that perceived control is a core aspect of children's active construction of their experiences. The legacy of the book will be to lead to the use of constructs of perceived control in research in these other areas—the penultimate chapter is a valuable how-to prescription (and how-not-to proscription) for accomplishing this.

    RobertPlomin

    Acknowledgments

    It is a pleasure to acknowledge the many contributions of colleagues and students to my research and thinking. Many experts in the control field have provided instructive feedback, including Margret Baltes, Albert Bandura, Jochen Brandstaedter, Bert Brim, Jr., Virginia Crandall, Carol Dweck, Heinz Heckhausen, Walter Mischel, Martin Seligman, Bernard Weiner, and John Weisz. I have been very lucky with colleagues, including my collaborators at the Max Planck Institute—Paul Baltes, Michael Chapman, and Bernhard Schmitz—as well as my other German colleagues Rainer Reisenzein and Manfred Schmitt. I am pleased that research on the construct of control continues successfully at the Institute with Jutta Heckhausen, Todd Little, Gabriele Oettingen, and Anna Stetsenko. Work with the Motivation Research Group at the University of Rochester is always fun and thought-provoking, and for that I thank Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. Special appreciation is reserved for James Connell and James Wellborn, whose insight and enthusiasm have made them valued collaborators over many years.

    My research teams of postdoctoral, graduate, undergraduate, and staff members have been delightful and productive. They include the Berlin group, Werner Grezeck, Birgit Herbeck, Jane Johnson, Ulman Lindenberger, Richard Newman, Anita Schindler, Christa Schmidt, and Martin Teschechne; the Rochester group, Jeff Altman, Michael Belmont, Helen Dorsett, Jennifer Herman, Marianne Miserandino, Brian Patrick, Cara Regan, and Hayley Sherwood; and the new Portland group, Cathleen Edge, Sandy Grossmann, Ron Yoder, and Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck. Special recognition goes to Peter Usinger, whose work spanned all three research teams.

    I express my deep appreciation to the W. T. Grant Foundation, to its past President Robert Haggerty, and its current President Beatrix Hamburg and Vice President Lonnie Sherrod, whose support through a Faculty Scholar Award provided the time to complete this book. I am also happy to acknowledge support from Research Grant No. HD19914 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Training Grant No. 527594 from the National Institutes of Mental Health, as well local support from Portland State University.

    In the production of the book, I would like to thank reviewers Judy Dunn, Jutta Heckhausen, Thomas Kindermann, and Gordon Skinner, as well as an anonymous reviewer, for their considered comments on earlier drafts; I especially thank series editor Robert Plomin. I also thank James Wellborn for his creative and conceptual contributions to the graphics, and Sandy Grossmann for her editorial work.

    No one finds the time to write a book without taking time away from other important commitments. And so I would like to thank my family, Marjorie and Gordon Skinner, Laura and Larry Webb, and Leona and Thomas Kindermann, for their unflagging encouragement during this interesting process.

    Introduction

    The images created by reading the research on perceived control are vivid and visceral. Seligman's dogs are huddled in a corner, fearfully awaiting painful shocks, even though with one leap over the barrier, they could escape. Watson's tiny infants are lying on their backs, kicking their feet and cooing joyfully as they turn the mobiles over their heads. One of Dweck's children is talking aloud as he experiences repeated failures; he is ruminating about how badly he did on the last problem and what he will be having for lunch. Another of Dweck's children hitches his chair up to the table, rubs his hands together, saying, “Now this is starting to get interesting!”

    Averill's college student is looking at the button on the side of his chair and deciding to take another blast of painfully loud noise before terminating the experiment. Bandura's heart attack victims are wondering if they are capable of following through on the exercise program prescribed by their doctors. Langer and Rodin's old people are sitting in the recreation room of their institutional home, listening to the director encouraging them to decide what to eat, what movies to watch, and giving them a plant for which they will be responsible. They don't know it yet, but they will live longer than their counterparts on another floor of the same institution who do not participate in this intervention.

    The research on perceived control is a scrapbook of images that span the domains of human functioning as well as the life course. Experiences of control have enriched everyone's lives. And, inevitably, loss of control visits everyone as well: failure, divorce, illness, aging, loss of loved ones. At certain social addresses and historical times, the impact of powerful and chaotic forces is more apparent. What people have in common across historical time, social status, and age, however, is the need for control. In the words of Gurin and Brim (1984), “The sense of control, inextricably linked developmentally to beliefs about causation, is fundamental to human life” (p. 282).

    Purpose of the Book

    This book is written for all the colleagues and students who, over the years, have called or written for advice on perceived control. These are the more precise answers I wish I had given over the telephone and the long-winded explanations I wish I had been able to include in letters. I have tried to answer basic questions about the nature and components of perceived control. I have tried to speak to the critics of perceived control, explaining the limitations of the construct, and I have tried to address its potential friends, describing how to decide whether to include perceived control in a program of research. I have written about my own ideas without detailing the decades of work on the topic that preceded them, but I hope that my respect for that work is apparent.

    I discovered the topic of perceived control while pursuing my interest in the development of enthusiasm. One of the most appealing characteristics of young children is their ceaseless unbounded curiosity about how the world works. And one of the saddest developments is the emergence of individual differences in which some children maintain their enthusiasm, optimism, and interest while others become anxious, fearful, and withdrawn in the face of challenges. The development of these individual differences led me to the construct of perceived control, as a powerful mechanism underlying their emergence. The study of perceived control is located at the interface of many areas in sociology and psychology, including social, personality, clinical, health, educational, organizational, sports, and developmental; it touches many other broad topics, such as motivation, social cognition, coping, and the self; and it plays a role in development from infancy to old age. No one can be an expert on all these areas, but it may be useful to analyze some of the general themes that continue to surface across them. I have tried to bring enthusiasm to the task.

    Overview of the Book

    This book is divided into seven sections, arranged from the most fundamental to the most complex issues. Part I summarizes the metatheoretical basis for a needs theory of perceived control. Part II briefly sketches the place of other theories within this model and presents a new conceptualization of perceived control. Part III covers the antecedents of perceived control, looking at the emergence of a sense of control in social interactions as well as contextual features that promote and undermine control. Part IV focuses on the consequences of control, specifically on motivation and coping. Part V details the development of control, largely unexplored territory, especially issues of developmental change in the mechanisms by which control is constructed and expressed. Part VI describes the implications for interventions into the competence system, highlighting gaps in knowledge that make it difficult to optimize perceived control in children, adults, and the elderly. Finally, Part VII outlines the questions researchers will ask themselves as they decide whether to use control constructs in their research, and suggests an agenda for future study of development and individual differences.

    Overview of the Theory

    In the broadest sense, perceptions of control can be thought of as naive causal models individuals hold about how the world works: about the likely causes of desired and undesired events, about their own role in successes and failures, about the responsiveness of other people, institutions, and social systems. As noted by Brim (1976), it can be thought of as a “self-theory”: “One's sense of personal control is in fact a system of belief, i.e., a theory about oneself in relation to one's environment, and a concern with causality, whether outcomes are a consequence of one's own behavior or tend to occur independently of that behavior” (p. 243).

    People strive to experience control because humans have an innate need to be effective in interactions with the environment. The experience of control is joyful, the loss of control can be devastating. Individual's interpretations of these experiences are reflected cumulatively in their control beliefs, which constitute a major self-system process. The innate universal need gives power to people's beliefs. Beliefs about control do not consist of cold procedural knowledge about causes and effects; they are hot potent constructions, imbued with emotion and personal significance.

    Perceptions of control influence whether responses are initiated; have an impact on emotional reactions to success and failure; influence how well intentions can be implemented; and promote or impede effort, exertion, and persistence. They are particularly critical in times of stress. Perceived control influences whether people actively test hypotheses and strategies, seek information, and plan, or instead lapse into passivity, confusion, avoidance, rumination, and anxiety. Collectively, these outcomes are referred to as action and action regulation, and they are typically studied as motivation and coping. They in turn underlie success and failure many life tasks and domains.

    Perceived control is shaped by development and is an active force in guiding development as well. Individuals who believe they have control act in ways that make success more likely and so confirm their initial high expectations of control. Furthermore, their sustained engagement in challenging tasks is likely to lead to the development of actual competence over time. In contrast, individuals who do not believe they can influence outcomes act in ways that forfeit opportunities for exerting control. Over time, through their passivity and avoidance of difficult tasks, they forgo the development of new competencies. Individual differences in developmental trajectories of both subjective control and objective competence will result.

    Although research documents that individual differences in control are important across the life span, development changes how they are organized and how they function. The experiences that contribute to a sense of control change with age, as does the causal reasoning that interprets experiences into beliefs. Developmental change is seen in the very nature of the self to which control is attributed. Changes are also evident in the other causal categories used to explain control experiences, like ability, chance, and luck. Age, as well as gender, class, and race, influence actual opportunities and limitations for control as well as how the social context interprets an individual's successes and failures.

    The core themes of the book reflect an attempt to explore the complex interplay between person, context, and development as they shape individual differences in perceived control. The challenge of bringing together developmental and individual differences perspectives is twofold: to discover how individual differences in developmental trajectories are created and maintained or deflected; and to discover how normative developmental changes affect the way children and adults construct and express individual differences in perceived control. Bringing together the sometimes seemingly disparate work on individual differences and developmental change in perceived control has the potential to enrich both areas of study.

  • Appendix: The Student Perceptions of Control Questionnaire: Academic Domain: Children's Control, Strategy, and Capacity Beliefs (Items and Codes)

    Control Beliefs
    35.If I decide to learn something hard, I can.ASCNP01
    50.I can do well in school if I want to.ASCNP02
    58.I can get good grades in school.ASCNP03
    10.I can't get good grades, no matter what I do.ASCNN01
    5.I can't stop myself from doing poorly in school.ASCNN02
    14.I can't do well in school, even if I want to.ASCNN03
    Strategy Beliefs
    Effort
    54.For me to do well in school, all I have to do is work hard.ASSEP01
    22.If I want to do well on my schoolwork, I just need to try hard.ASSEP02
    25.The best way for me to get good grades is to work hard.ASSEP03
    39.If I don't do well in school, it's because I didn't work hard enough.ASSEN01
    43.If I get bad grades, it's because I didn't try hard enough.ASSEN02
    37.If I don't do well on my schoolwork, it's because I didn't try hard enough.ASSEN03
    SOURCE: Wellborn, Connell, & Skinner, 1988.
    Attributes
    46.I have to be smart to get good grades in school.ASSAP01
    15.Getting good grades depends on how smart I am.ASSAP02
    55.If I want to do well in school, I have to be smart.ASSAP03
    33.If I'm not smart, I won't get good grades.ASSAN01
    41.If I'm not already good in a school subject, I won't do well at it.ASSAN02
    29.If I'm not smart in a school subject, I won't do well at it.ASSAN03
    Powerful others
    48.To do well in school, I just have to get the teacher to like me.ASSOPOl
    59.The best way for me to get good grades is to get the teacher to like me.ASSOP02
    51.If I want to get good grades in a subject, I have to get along with my teacher.ASSOP03
    53.I won't do well in school if my teacher doesn't like me.ASSONOl
    38.If my teacher doesn't like me, I won't do well in class.ASSON02
    34.If I get bad grades, it's because I don't get along with my teacher.ASSONQ3
    Luck
    20.Getting good grades for me is a matter of luck.ASSLP01
    16.To do well in school, I have to be lucky.ASSLP02
    32.If I get good grades, it's because I'm lucky.ASSLP03
    49.If I get bad grades, it's because I'm unlucky.ASSLN01
    56.If I don't get good grades in class, it is because of bad luck.ASSLN02
    1.When I don't do well in a subject, it's because of bad luck.ASSLN03
    Unknown
    36.When I do well in school, I usually can't figure out why.ASSUP01
    44.I don't know what it takes for me to get good grades in school.ASSUP02
    23.If I get a good grade on a test, I usually don't know why.ASSUP03
    27.When I do badly in school, I usually can't figure out why.ASSUN01
    26.I don't know how to keep myself from getting bad grades.ASSUN02
    40.If I get a bad grade in school, I usually don't understand why I got it.ASSUN03
    Capacity Beliefs
    Effort
    24.When I'm in class, I can work hard.ASYEP01
    28.I can work really hard in school.ASYEP02
    3.When I'm doing classwork, I can really work hard on it.ASYEP03
    57.I can't seem to try very hard in school.ASYEP01
    6.When I'm in class, I can't seem to work very hard.ASYEN02
    4.I have trouble working hard in school.ASYEN03
    Attributes
    12.I think I'm pretty smart in school.ASYAP01
    19.When it comes to school, I'm pretty smart.ASYAP02
    42.I would say I'm pretty smart in school.ASYAP03
    2.I don't have the brains to do well at school.ASYAN01
    31.I'm not very smart when it comes to schoolwork.ASYAN02
    52.When it comes to schoolwork, I don't think I'm very smart.ASYAN03
    Powerful others
    47.I am able to get my teacher to like me.ASYOPOl
    17.I can get my teacher to like me.ASYOPQ2
    8.I can get along with my teacher.ASYOP03
    18.I can't get my teacher to like me.ASYONOl
    21.I don't seem to be able to get my teacher to like me.ASYON02
    13.I'm just not able to get along with my teacher.AYSONQ3
    Luck
    45.I am lucky in school.ASYLP01
    7.I'm pretty lucky when it comes to getting grades.ASYLP02
    11.As far as doing well in school goes, I'm pretty lucky.ASYLP03
    30.I am unlucky when it comes to schoolwork.ASYLN01
    9.When it comes to grades, I'm unlucky.ASYLN02
    60.I am unlucky at my schoolwork.ASYLN03
    Computing Scores for the SPOCQ: Full Scale
    ConstructVariable LabelItems
    Control Beliefs
    positive eventsCONp =(ASCNP01 + ASCNP02 + ASCNP03)/3
    negative eventsCONn =(ASCNN01 + ASCNN02 + ASCNN03)/3
    totalCON =[CONp + (5 − CONn)]2
    Strategy Beliefs
    Effort
    positive eventsSTeffp =(ASSEP01 + ASSEP02 + ASSEP03)/3
    negative eventsSTeffn =(ASSEN01 + ASSEN02 + ASSEN03)/3
    totalSTeff =(STeffp + STeffn)/2
    Attributes
    positive eventsSTattp =(ASSAP01 + ASSAP02 + ASSAP03)/3
    negative eventsSTattn =(ASSAN01 + ASSAN02 + ASSAN03)/3
    totalSTatt =(STattp + STattn)/2
    Powerful Others
    positive eventsSTothp(ASSOPOl + ASSOP02 + ASSOP03)/3
    negative eventsSTothn =(ASSONOl + ASSON02 + ASSON03)/3
    totalSToth =(STothp + STothn)/2
    Luck
    positive eventsSTlucp =(ASSLP01 + ASSLP02 + ASSLP03)/3
    negative eventsSTlucn =(ASSLN01 + ASSLN02 + ASSLN03)/3
    totalSTluc −(STlucp + STlucn)/2
    Unknown
    positive eventsSTunkp =(ASSUP01 + ASSUP02 + ASSUP03)/3
    negative eventsSTunkn =(ASSUN01 + ASSUN02 + ASSUN03)/3
    totalSTunk =(STunkp + STunkn)/2
    Capacity Beliefs
    Effort
    positive eventsCPeffp =(ASYEP01 + ASYEP02 + ASYEP03)/3
    negative eventsCPeffn =(ASYEN01 + ASYEN02 + ASYEN03)/3
    totalCPeff =[CPeffp + (5 − CPeffn)]/2
    Attributes
    positive eventsCPattp =(ASYAP01 + ASYAP02 + ASYAP03)/3
    negative eventsCPattn =(ASYAN01 + ASYAN02 + ASYAN03)/3
    totalCPatt =[CPattp + (5 − CPattn)]/2
    Powerful Others
    positive eventsCPothp =(ASYOPOl + ASYOP02 + ASYC>P03)/3
    negative eventsCPothn =(ASYONOl + ASYON02 + ASYC>N03)/3
    totalCPoth =[CPothp + (5 − CPothn)]/2
    Luck
    positive eventsCPlucp =(ASYLP01 + ASYLP02 + ASYLP03)/3
    negative eventsCPlucn =(ASYLN01 + ASYLN02 + ASYLN03)/3
    totalCPluc =[CPlucp + (5 − CPlucn)]/2
    Computing Interaction Scores and Summary Scores
    ConstructVariable LabelItems
    Interaction of Strategy and Capacity Beliefs
    EffortINTeff =STeff × CPeff
    AttributesINTatt =(5 − STatt) × CPatt
    Powerful OthersINToth =SToth × (5 − CPoth)
    LuckINTluc =STluc × (5 − CPluc)
    Cumulative Effects on Motivation and Performance
    PromotePromote =(CON × 4) = (STeff × CPeffp) + [(5 − STatt) × CPattp] + (CPothp × 4) + (CPlucp × 4)
    UndermineUndermine =(STunk × 4) + (CPeffn × 4) + (CPattn × 4) + (SToth × CPothn) + (STluc × CPlucn)
    Maximum ControlCon Max =Promote − Undermine
    Short Form
    ConstructVariable LabelItems
    Control BeliefsCON =[ASCNP02 + (5 − ASCNN03)]/2;
    Strategy Beliefs
    EffortSTeff =[ASSEP03 + (5 − ASSEN03)]/2;
    AttributesSTatt =[ASSAP01 + (5 − ASSAN01)]/2;
    Powerful OthersSToth =[ASSOP01 + (5 − ASSON01)]/2;
    LuckSTluc =[ASSLP02 + (5 − ASSLN02)]/2;
    UnknownSTunk =[ASSUP02 + (5 − ASSUN02)]/2;
    Computing Summary Score
    PromotePromote =(Con × 4) + (STeff × ASYEP02) + [(5 − STatt) × ASYAP01] + (ASYOP02 × 4) + (ASYLP02 × 4);
    UndermineUndermine =(STunk × 4) + (ASYEN01 × 4) + (ASYAN02 × 4) + (SToth × ASYON02) + (STluc XASYLN03);
    Maximum ControlCon Max =Promote − Undermine

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    Author Index

    About the Author

    Ellen A. Skinner was trained as a life-span developmental psychologist at the Pennsylvania State University, from which she received a Ph.D. in Human Development in 1981. She spent the next 7 years as a Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin, Germany. In 1988 she joined the faculty at the University of Rochester to work with the Motivation Research Group. In fall 1992 she moved to Portland State University. She has conducted research and written about the development of the self and perceived control, and the parent and school contexts that promote and undermine them. Her work has been generously supported by the Foundation for Child Development, the Max Planck Institute, the William T. Grant Foundation, and research and training grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


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