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Health Psychol. 1991;10(5):303-10.

Personal responsibility and control over our bodies: when expectation exceeds reality.

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Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-7447.


Good health has become more than a means to personal goals such as greater attractiveness and increased longevity. It symbolizes self-control, hard work, ambition, and success in life. Inherent in this symbolism is the concept that the individual controls behavior, which in turn controls health. Although control over one's life plays an important role in both physical and mental health, the concept of personal control also infers responsibility. Positive attributes are accorded to people who are healthy, but those who fall ill, or those with less than the perfect body, are blamed and are thought to be self-indulgent, lazy, or even irresponsible and immoral. There is a tendency to overstate the impact of personal behavior on health. However, biological realities shape the degree to which health is under the control of the individual. The positive effects of behavior change must be balanced with the limits imposed by biology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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