Posted by: nickgerlich | November 6, 2007

Control Freak

It is amazing how the social climate changes through time. In the 1950s, people ran around scared of the looming Cold War between the US and the USSR. Of course, it was more a verbal sparring match than anything, a war of words and veiled threats backed up by enough missile silos to exterminate all of a few times over. The result was thousands of fallout shelters and subterranean hideouts in which we could theoretically survive.

If we could get there fast enough.

RotterThere was a certain collective feeling of helplessness, that we could not control our destiny, because it was in the hands of others. About this same time, psychologist Julian Rotter studied personality theory, ultimately leading to his famous Locus of Control survey instrument (click the link to take the survey yourself). The LOC measures how much an individual is controlled by internal (self) or external (other) forces.

I was reminded of Rotter upon reading replies to yesterday’s blog about the link between fat and cancer. Near the end I reported statistics that showed about 1 in 2 Americans believe they cannot control whether they get cancer. In effect, they are saying that there is nothing they can do to prevent this often deadly outcome. This utter helplessness is indicative, perhaps, of a return to the 1950s mindset.

Except that in this decade the enemy is clinical, not political.

There are no right or wrong answers on Rotter’s scale. There are only your answers. I have used the LOC in some of my research on music piracy and the ethicality of copying music. Generally speaking, my co-authors and I found that there is a relationship between LOC score and illegal downloading. Interpretation: the more externally controlled you are, the more you steal music. “I’m going to do this anyway…if I get caught, then, oh well…

In other words, there really isn’t much we can do to affect anything. Just live your life as you see fit. It’s almost like that old Monty Python skit: “You can complain, but what good would it do?”

Fast-forward to 2007. If people truly are exhibiting an external LOC, it would go a long way in explaining why they feel so helpless about cancer. Personal health and fitness. Recycling. And maybe even global warming. “Even if I did try to do something, it wouldn’t make any difference.”

So we go our merry ways, and wait for Lady Luck to determine our fate for us. Spin the bottle, and wait to see where it lands. Roll the dice, and hope you come up sevens.

I want nothing to do with this lady, for I subscribe to poet John Milton’s astute observation: “Luck is the residue of design.”

And I am the designer of my destiny.

Dr “Feeling Lucky Today” Gerlich


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