Staying in control reduces impact of trauma on mortality

When looking at the role that perceived control played in mortality, results showed that the impact of trauma was much less for people reporting high levels of mastery (belief in one’s ability to achieve a goal). As well, participants reporting higher levels of perceived constraints (belief in external forces beyond one’s control) were also more likely have experienced trauma in childhood (such as abuse), though this had less of an effect on later mortality.

In summary, these results appear consistent with previous research suggesting that the sense of being in control is a key factor in coping effectively with traumatic events. Studies looking at resilience (positive or better-than-expected
outcomes despite exposure to significant risk or adversity) have shown that perceived control can help prevent many of the health problems that might otherwise occur due to traumatic stress. On the other hand, people who believe themselves to be unable to control their lives are much more likely to develop health problems depending on the amount of stress they accumulate over time.

So, why would perceived mastery make people less vulnerable to stress? According to social learning models developed by Albert Bandura (link is external) and his colleagues, perceived control is linked to other aspects of self-efficacy, including problem-solving ability, being able to manage negative thoughts and emotions, and having a pragmatic viewpoint that allows us to “keep cool” during crises. Not only does this enable us to handle stress that might otherwise be overwhelming, but it helps us avoid many of the physiological changes that are often associated with extreme stress.