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Going with the flow: Measuring self-directed control

Beth Ann Morling, University of Massachusetts Amherst


People feel in control when they effectively alter an external environment, their own behavior, or their own mental state. Past research on control emphasizes the psychological benefits of having environmental control, in which people bring the environment in line with their own wishes. The present research explores self-directed control, in which people adapt to the surrounding environmental context. Environmental control affirms the traditional Western cultural emphasis on an independent, agentic self that separates positively from others. But self-directed control assists an interdependent, contextual self-concept that values merging with and depending on other people. Guided by culturally informed views of the interdependent self and by initial theories on self-directed control (originally "secondary" control; Weisz, Rothbaum, & Blackburn, 1984), the present research develops an individual difference measure of self-directed control. Unlike past views that consider self-directed control a passive alternative to failed environmental control, this report considers how positive, active styles of self-directed control enable people to maintain social bonds. Initial items on the individual difference measure of self-directed control (SDC) reflect field work and re-interpretations of four categories outlined in Weisz, et al. (1984). Exploratory factor analysis, internal consistency analysis, and confirmatory factor analysis reduced the item pool to 21 items that comprise five correlated factors: trusting a higher power: allowing other people to fulfill persona needs; anticipating and adjusting to other people's needs; merging goals with others; and accepting that bad times will improve on their own. Over 2,300 participants in seven diverse samples completed the SDC scale. The scale meets traditional psychometric standards. It correlates with measures of interdependence and collectivism and is orthogonal to measures of environmental control, as predicted. The scale is uncorrelated with self-esteem. Women and Hispanics, two groups for whom role requirements and cultural background emphasize interdependence, score higher than men and Anglos, respectively. A diary study confirmed that the SDC scale predicts daily reports of self-directed control, and demonstrated that social situations support self-directed control. The results support the social nature of self-directed control, reveal the importance of trust in this type of control, and suggest that self-directed control may not engage conscious self-efficacy.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Personality|Psychological tests

Recommended Citation

Morling, Beth Ann, "Going with the flow: Measuring self-directed control" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9709633.