An analysis of secondary control beliefs and physical and psychological well-being in older individuals

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Swift, Audrey U A A
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Researchers have struggled to define how to age well since the time of Roman philosopher Cicero in 44 BC, yet today it remains a mystery (Tate, Lah, & Cuddy, 2003). In the context of dealing with age-related declines that often accompany later life, it has recently been suggested that positive reinterpretation, a concept implicit to positive psychology, may be important (Ouwehand, de Ridder, & Bensing, 2007; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Positive reinterpretation has at times been referred to as “secondary control” in the psychological literature. In their seminal article of 1982, Rothbaum, Weisz, and Snyder theorized that there were multiple ways in which people could positively reinterpret outcomes and gain feelings of secondary control, including believing in the power of others and nature, as well as downgrading importance. These belief patterns become especially important in later life, when faced with age-related challenges. In the present study, secondary control beliefs were examined cross-sectionally in 2003 (n = 223) and prospectively in 2006 (n = 117) in a sample of older adults (M age = 85 years, 62% women) using a variety of outcome measures including severity of chronic conditions score, recent health, self-rated health, positive emotion, life satisfaction, and perceived stress. The unique contributions of this study are twofold. First, the findings suggest that some older adults may emphasize certain secondary control beliefs in combination. Second, the combined beliefs were found to relate cross-sectionally to measures of physical and psychological well-being. These exploratory findings have important implications in applied and theoretical contexts. In applied contexts, they may help to enhance physical and psychological well-being in the very old. In theoretical contexts, they extend contemporary thinking on secondary control.
secondary control, positive reinterpretation, interpretive control, aging, psychological adjustment, acceptance, perceived control, coping, positive psychology