It can be unpleasant to reflect on how little control we have in our everyday lives. From being thrown over by a romantic partner to contracting an illness, or even just sitting in the passenger seat of a car, we often lack control over our environment and life outcomes. This is such a major concern for people that the theme of lack of control pervades popular culture. Newspaper and magazine articles focus on how to “stay in control” of our lives; self-help books are written describing how feeling in control can resolve many of life’s problems. This general aversion to lacking control forms the basis of my research. I investigate reactions to loss of control, and the psychological lengths to which people will go in order to regain perceived control.
When we can’t regain control directly, people often turn to other methods to feel in control. For example, I find when people experience a loss of control they tend to become aggressive and prejudiced (Greenaway, Louis, Hornsey, & Jones, 2014). I also find that loss of control causes people to endorse irrational beliefs about prediction–claiming that it is possible to foretell the future–because it helps them feel that the future is controllable (Greenaway, Louis, & Hornsey, 2013). In short, when people lack control they perform “psychological gymnastics”, altering their beliefs, thoughts, and behaviour to convince themselves that they are in control of their lives.
Identity and Control
In other work I am considering methods of protecting perceived control to avoid the need to engage in these psychological processes of control restoration. Linking with my work on identity, I investigate how people can gain feelings of personal control from the groups they belong to (Greenaway, Haslam, Cruwys, Branscombe, Ysseldyk, & Heldreth, in press).