Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Relationship of Primary versus Secondary Control Beliefs to Attitudes toward Seeking Help

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Relationship of Primary versus Secondary Control Beliefs to Attitudes toward Seeking Help

Article excerpt

This study examined the relationship of primary and secondary control beliefs to attitudes about seeking professional psychological help. A sample of 164 university students (68.3% women, mean age 24.96 years, SD=5.1) in Singapore completed the Primary-Secondary Control Scale and the Attitudes toward Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale. Secondary control, defined as a belief of changing oneself to adapt to reality, was related to more positive attitudes toward seeking professional help. Primary control, defined as a belief of influencing existing realities as a mean of coping, was not related to attitudes toward help-seeking.

The dominant theories of psychological control focus on the concept of primary control: the belief that people cope by attempting to directly influence or manage existing situations. Rotter's (1966) locus of control theory suggests that individuals can either be internal or external in their perceptions of control. People classified as "internal" perceive that they can influence or control their situations; whereas individuals classified as "external" believe that they have little or no control over their situations. It appears that internal locus of control is generally desirable and has many positive implications. For example, individuals with higher internal (primary) locus of control beliefs are generally more helpful (e.g., Clark, 1991); perceive more social support (VanderZee, Buunk & Sanderman, 1997), cope better in stressful situations (e.g., Band, 1990); get better school grades (e.g., Tangney, Baumeister & Boone, 2004) and have higher job-appraisal ratings (Patten, 2005).

Rothbaum, Weisz and Snyder (1982) postulated that primary control is not necessarily the only approach for coping. Secondary control, as contrasted with primary control, refers to people's attempts to change some aspects of their selves to exert perceived control over challenging situations (Rothbaum, Weisz & Snyder, 1982; Skinner, 1996; Weisz, Rothbaum & Blackburn, 1984). This approach leaves the external situation unchanged but facilitates coping by adapting one's cognition, affect or behavior to reduce the negative impacts of the situation. Rothbaum et al (1982) define optimal adaptation as the ability and knowledge to shift between primary and secondary control in an effort to sustain an adaptive sense of control, particularly in difficult situations, while adjusting according to the perceived controllability of the situational demands. They further suggest that individuals, who rely mainly on primary control, while neglecting the use of secondary control, are particularly susceptible to feelings of helplessness, when they eventually fail after intensive efforts to manage or influence a situation.

Some researchers have argued that the overall emphasis and preference for primary psychological control is shaped mainly by Western cultural values and preference for individual control, autonomy and freedom (Bjork, Lee & Cohen, 1977; Chang, Chua & Toh, 1997).

Chang, Chua and Toh (1997) argued that the concept of secondary control is congruent with Asian cultural values, which emphasize the importance of understanding one's social context and developing one's abilities to fit in with societal demands. The self in a collective society needs to "adjust his or her perception, behavior and affect in order to be an integral part of the general environment" (p. 100). Asian cultural emphasis on respect, compliance with authority and acceptance of fate also contribute to a higher sense of external locus of control (Kung, 2003). Chang et al. (1997) propose that Asians process a conceptualization of multiple control beliefs (ranging from primary to secondary control) and will use one which is deemed suitable for a specific situation. This concept of control-situation fit is consistent with Rothbaum et al's (1982) model of dual control processes. The use of secondary control might be more prevalent in Asian societies (Walker, Courneya & Deng, 2006). …

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