Compensatory control and the appeal of a structured world.
People are motivated to perceive themselves as having control over their lives. Consequently, they respond to events and cognitions that reduce control with compensatory strategies for restoring perceived control to baseline levels. Prior theory and research have documented 3 such strategies: bolstering personal agency, affiliating with external systems perceived to be acting on the self's behalf, and affirming clear contingencies between actions and outcomes within the context of reduced control (here termed specific structure). We propose a 4th strategy: affirming nonspecific structure, or seeking out and preferring simple, clear, and consistent interpretations of the social and physical environments. Formulating this claim suggests that people will respond to reduced control by affirming structured interpretations that are unrelated to the control-reducing condition, and even those that entail otherwise adverse outcomes (e.g., pessimistic health prospects). Section 1 lays the conceptual foundation for our review, situating the proposed phenomenon in the literatures on control motivation and threat-compensation mechanisms. Section 2 reviews studies that have demonstrated that trait and state variations in perceived control predict a wide range of epistemic structuring tendencies, including pattern recognition and causal reasoning. We posit that these tendencies reflect a common desire for a structured understanding of one's environment. Accordingly, a new meta-analysis spanning the reviewed studies (k = 55) revealed that control reduction predicts nonspecific structure affirmation with a moderate effect size (r = .25). Section 3 reviews research on individual differences and situational moderators of this effect. The discussion addresses the interplay of compensatory control strategies and practical implications.
Landau, MJ; Kay, AC; Whitson, JA
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