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Longevity Linked to Self-Confidence, Feeling in Control

High sense of self-determination could make a difference in living healthier lives, countering lack of education

Feb. 5, 2014 - People who feel in control and believe they can achieve goals despite hardships are more likely to live longer and healthier lives, especially among those with less education, according to a new study by Brandeis University and the University of Rochester, which was supported by the National Institute on Aging.

Previous studies have shown that people with a high school diploma or less education tend to die younger than those with a college degree or graduate training. Yet, that’s not a hard and fast rule. Why? 

In this study, published online in the journal of Health Psychology, less educated people with higher perceived control in their life had a mortality rate three times lower than those with a lower sense of control.

 

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In fact, a high sense of control seemed to negate the mortality risks of lower education, says Margie Lachman, the Minnie and Harold Fierman Professor of Psychology, and an author on the paper. 

“A high sense of control all but wipes out educational differences when it comes to mortality,” Lachman says. “A person with less education but a high sense of control is practically indistinguishable from a person of high education.”

Researchers determined attitudes about perceived control by asking participants to rank agreement to a set of statements. For example, participants were given the statement, “Sometimes I feel I am being pushed around in my life,” and asked to rank their agreement from one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree). 

The study’s public health implications are exciting, says Lachman. 

“There are methods and strategies for improving one’s sense of control, and educational experiences are one of them,” Lachman says. “We could implement those approaches in educational and public health programs aimed at increasing health-promoting attitudes and behaviors and ultimately lowering mortality risks.”

The study’s authors include Nicolas Turiano and Benjamin Chapman of the University of Rochester Medical Center, Frank Infurna of the German Institute for Economic Research, and Stefan Agrigoroaei of Brandeis.  

The research used data from Midlife in the United States (MIDUS), a national survey of more than 6,000 people. 

 

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