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J Health Soc Behav. 1990 Mar;31(1):71-86.

Control or defense? Depression and the sense of control over good and bad outcomes.

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Department of Sociology, University of Illinois, Urbana 61801.


Defense theory holds that defensive illusions guard well-being. People supposedly are least depressed if they claim responsibility for good outcomes and deny responsibility for bad ones. Control theory states that active, effective problem solving builds well-being; thus a sense of personal control and responsibility for both success and failure is associated with low levels of depression. Which theory is right? Regression analyses of the self-reports of 809 randomly selected Illinois residents show that a sense of responsibility for both successes and failures (instrumentalism) is associated with low levels of depression. There is no measurable benefit from claiming responsibility for the good things while denying responsibility for the bad (self-defense). Depression is associated with not feeling in control of good outcomes, or of bad outcomes, or of both. The sense of control reflects the reality of social and economic status. It explains part of the relationship between status and depression. We infer that defensive illusions are no substitute for genuine control.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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