Perceived Past, Present, and Future Control and Adjustment to Stressful Life Events

Patricia A Frazier, Nora Keenan, Samantha Anders, Sulani Perera, Sandra Shallcross, Samuel Hintz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


Perceived control is a central construct in psychology and is key to understanding individual differences in poststress outcomes (Frazier, Berman, & Steward, 2001). The goals of the current studies (using 4 samples of undergraduate students, total N = 1,421) were to examine the relations between different aspects of perceived control and poststress outcomes and to differentiate perceived control over specific events from related constructs (i.e., general control beliefs, coping strategies). To accomplish these goals, we first developed a new measure of perceived past, present, and future control over stressful life events. The data supported the content validity, factor structure, internal consistency and test-retest reliability, and convergent and discriminant validity of the new measure. Consistent with the temporal model of control (Frazier et al., 2001), these 3 forms of control had very different relations with adjustment. Present control was consistently related to lower distress levels in cross-sectional, longitudinal, and prospective analyses. Present control also predicted outcomes beyond the effects of general control beliefs and coping strategies. Past and future control had nonsignificant or positive relations with distress, although future control was associated with better outcomes (i.e., course grades) when the stressor was controllable. Thus, our measure can be used to assess the relations between perceived past, present, and future control and outcomes across a range of stressors. Because the relations between these 3 forms of control and outcomes differ markedly, measures that combine these aspects of control hinder the understanding of the important role of perceived control in adjustment to stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)749-765a
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011


  • Coping
  • Locus of control
  • Perceived control
  • Stress
  • Trauma


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