Behavioral Research

Table of Contents
1 Description, Theoretical Background, and History
2 Components of Personal Control
3 The Role of Control in Health Behavior Theories

Measures and Measurements



6 Published Examples

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Other Constructs



Dispositional Optimism




Illness Representations

  Implementation Intentions
  Intention, Expectation, and Willingness
  Normative Beliefs
  Optimistic Bias
  Perceived Benefits
  Perceived Control
  Perceived Severity
  Perceived Vulnerability
  Self-Reported Behavior
  Social Influence
  Social Support

Perceived Control
Suzanne C. Thompson and Michèle M. Schlehofer

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Measures and Measurements

Measures of Perceived Control, Mastery, and Empowerment
Mastery. Pearlin and Schooler (1978) developed a general perceived control (mastery) scale consisting of seven items rated on a 7-point Likert scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." Sample items include, "I often feel helpless in dealing with the problems of life," and "I have control over the things that happen to me." As an example of research using this scale, new mothers with higher levels of mastery were more likely to engage in responsible maternal behavior two years later and less likely to have further pregnancies in that period (DeSocio, Kitzman, & Cole, 2003).

Internality, powerful others, and chance. Levenson's (1981) scale consists of 24 items measured on a 6-point response scale ranging from -3 (strongly disagree) to +3 (strongly agree). The scale includes separate measures of internality (general perceived control; 8 items), control by others (8 items), and the effects of chance (8 items). Sample items include: "When I make plans, I am almost certain to make them work" (internality); "I feel like what happens in my life is mostly determined by powerful people" (control by others); and "To a great extent my life is controlled by accidental happenings" (effects of chance). General perceived control, as assessed with Levenson's (1981) scale, has been found to predict amplification-seeking among hearing- impaired individuals (Cox, Alexander, & Gray, 2005).

Spheres of control. Paulus' (1983) Spheres of Control Scale (for more recent versions Spittal, Siegart, McClure, & Walkey, 2002) consists of 30 items rated on a 7-point Likert scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." The scale includes separate measures of personal efficacy (10 items), interpersonal control (10 items), and sociopolitical control (10 items). Sample items include: "When I make plans I am almost certain to make them work" (personal efficacy); "I have no trouble making and keeping friends" (interpersonal control); and "One of the major reasons we have wars is because people don't take enough interest in politics" (sociopolitical control). To date, no health behavior studies have been conducted using this scale.

Multidimensional health locus of control. Wallston, Wallston, and DeVellis' (1978) Multidimensional Health Locus of Control scale is an 18-item measure of perceived control over health outcomes measured on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." The scale includes separate measures of health-specific perceived control: internal, chance, and powerful others; each assessed with 6 items. Sample items include: "If I take the right actions, I can stay healthy" (internal); "No matter what I do, if I am going to get sick, I will get sick" (chance), and "My family has a lot to do with my becoming sick or staying healthy" (powerful others). This scale has been frequently used to assess health locus of control. For instance, research with the scale has found that Mexican American women who received a health self-care manual coupled with seminars training them on how to use the manual significantly increased in self-care behavior and internal and powerful other health locus of control (Kennedy, DeVoe, Ramer-Henry, & West-Kowalski, 1999).

Family empowerment. The Koren, Dechillo, and Friesen (1992)  Family Empowerment Scale consists of 34 items with a 5-point response scale "not at all true" to "very true." A sample item is, "I feel I can have a part in improving services for children in my community." As an example of this scale's use, the diabetic children of women with a stronger sense of empowerment have better adherence to treatment (Florian & Elad, 1998).

Perceived Behavioral Control
Measures of perceived behavioral control are usually devised by the researchers for a particular study, though many studies use items similar to the ones developed by Armitage and Connor (1999).  Examples of items from Armitage and Connor (1999)  are "Whether or not I eat a low fat diet is entirely up to me," and "How much personal control do you feel you have over eating a low-fat diet?" In one longitudinal study, perceived behavioral control predicted engagement in physical exercise (Armitage, 2005).

Self-efficacy, as originally conceived by Bandura (1977), is specific to a particular outcome. A large number of self-efficacy scales that are specific to a particular health behavior have been developed. Many studies have also used items developed just for that particular study. See: self-efficacy

Locus of Control
General locus of control. Rotter's (1966)  I/E Scale is a 29-item scale that assesses internal locus of control with a forced-choice format pairing external and internal control alternatives. A sample item pairing is, "I have often found that what is going to happen will happen" vs. "Trusting fate has never turned out as well for me as making a decision to take a definite course of action." Smokers who were more internal in LOC were more successful in their efforts to stop smoking (Rosenbaum & Argon, 1979). Interestingly, it was difficult to locate recent (published in the past 20 years) health behavior studies that used general LOC. Almost all studies used a general perceived control or health-related LOC. measure. Rotter's scale is available in Robinson, Shaver, and Wrightsman (1991).

Specific locus of control. There are several examples of specific locus of control scales. Donovan and O'Leary (1978)  have created a 25-item Drinking Locus of Control scale rated on a forced-choice format pairing internal and external control alternatives. A sample pairing is, "I feel so helpless in some situations that I need a drink" vs. "Abstinence is just a matter of deciding that I no longer want to drink." Among a sample of women who were recovering alcoholics, internal drinking locus of control predicted abstinence from drinking, waiting a longer period of time before starting to drink, drinking less on the first occasion of drinking, and drinking for fewer consecutive days (Koski-Jannes, 1994).

The four-item Weight Locus of Control scale, developed by Saltzer (1982), assesses how one's weight is determined, ranging from internal to external determinants. The scale is rated on a 6-point Likert scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). A sample item is, "Being the right weight is largely a matter of good fortune." Among those with an internal sense of weight locus of control, personal attitudes towards weight loss predict weight loss intentions. However, among those with an external sense of weight locus of control, normative beliefs predict weight loss intentions (Saltzer, 1981).

Rosenbaum (1980) developed a 36-item scale of self-control, rated on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from +3 (very characteristic of me; extremely descriptive) to -3 (very uncharacteristic of me; extremely nondescriptive). The scale measures four components of self-control:

  1. cognitive control of emotional and physiological responses (12 items);
  2. application of problem-solving strategies (11 items);
  3. ability to delay gratification (4 items); and
  4. self-efficacy (9 items).
Examples of sample items are, "When I do a boring job, I think about the less boring parts of the job and the reward I will receive when I finish," and "When I am feeling depressed, I try to think about pleasant events." Diabetic women with greater self-control engaged in a greater number of general health practices (e.g., exercise, nutrition). Self-control mediated the effect of depression on health practices (Zauszniewski & Chung, 2001).

Realistic/Unrealistic Control
Realistic and unrealistic control. Zuckerman, Knee, Kieffer, Rawsthorne, and Bruce's (1996)  Realistic and Unrealistic Control Scales consist of 33 items measured on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." Separate measures of realistic (18 items) and unrealistic control (15 items) are obtained. An example of a realistic control item is: "Success in life depends mostly on how hard you study or work." An example of an item measuring unrealistic control is: "There is no such thing as misfortune; everything that happens is the result of our own doing." A stronger sense of realistic control was associated with less risky sexual behavior while unrealistic control was associated with more risky sexual behavior (Zuckerman et al., 1996).

Illusory control. The Illusory Control Scale by Friedland, Kienan, and Regev (1992) assesses control over uncontrollable events via hypothetical situations; for instance, by asking the respondent to indicate whether they would rather choose their own lottery ticket numbers or rely on the machine to choose. The scale consists of 5 items assessed on a 10-point Likert scale (e.g., "let the machine choose for me" to "choose the ticket myself"). The Illusory Control Scale was associated with greater use of illusory (i.e., ineffective) HIV-protection strategies among college students and gay men in the community (Thompson, Kent, Thomas, & Vrungos, 1999).

Desire for Control/Preferences for Involvement
Desire for control. The Desire for Control Scale (Burger & Cooper, 1979) consists of 20 items rated on a 7-point response scale from "Does not apply to me at all" to "Always applies to me." Sample items are, "I enjoy having control over my own destiny," and "I enjoy being able to influence the actions of others." Higher desire for control is positively related to engagement in more health protective behaviors (as cited in Burger, 1992).

Desired control. Reid and Zeigler's (1981)  Desired Control Scale contains 70 items rated on a 5-point response scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." The scale consists of two subscales: desire of outcomes (desired control; 35 items), and beliefs and attitudes (which assesses control expectancy of outcomes; 35 items). Sample items are: "How important is it to you that you maintain your health?" (desired control) and "I can rarely get out to do things I want" (beliefs and attitudes). To date, no health behavior studies have been conducted using this scale.

Decision involvement questionnaire. Thompson, Pitts, and Schwankovsky (1993)  have developed a measure of decision involvement. Respondents read four vignettes describing various medical problems and rate who should make the treatment decision on a 5-point scale from "the doctor alone" to "you alone." A sample vignette is, "Suppose you fall and seriously injure your knee. There are two treatment programs that are medically appropriate for your condition. You can either have surgery that will be painful and require bed rest for a month OR you can enter a twice-a-week rehabilitation program for a year. Both have a 90% chance of success." Participants had a stronger preference to be involved in medical decisions that did not require medical expertise than those that did require expertise (Thompson et al., 1993).

Control Strategies
The Health Engagement Control Strategies (HECS; Wrosch, Schulz, & Heckhausen, 2002) is a nine-item measure rated on a 5-point scale: "almost never true" to "almost always true." Sample items include, "I invest as much time and energy as possible to improve my health," and "I do whatever is necessary to be as healthy as I possibly can be." To date, no health behavior studies have been conducted using this scale.

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