Monday, June 8, 2009

Forces Beyond Our Control?

Are our successes and failures driven by forces beyond our control?

There's great research into how we attribute our successes and failures. Basically when things go bad, we blame others. When things go bad for other people, we often attribute it to some personal failing on their part.

A new Pew Report I've been shamelessly mining for material includes this statement: Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control. Respondents could agree or disagree. Pew asked this question five times since 1987 and the results paint an interesting portrait of what people think about the root causes of their own successes and failures. I've included the graph to the right for your enjoyment. The trend line suggests people are less likely to blame these mysterious "forces" as agreement with the statement has dropped from 38 percent in 1987 to 32 percent in 2009 (disagreement has, obviously, increased at the same time).

(This kinda taps a favorite construct of mine, locus of control, but also includes aspects of self efficacy or internal efficacy -- the label you use depends, in part, on the scholarly plot of land you call home, but there are nuanced differences beyond the scope of my blog. I'm not a nuance guy.)

The trend is actually quite hopeful. It suggests people are more willing to take credit for their successes and their failures, and perhaps some have moved beyond the X-File Mysterious Force explanation in their life. This isn't to suggest that forces beyond control do affect lives. Katrina is one. The economic meltdown is another. But it does suggest some increase in personal responsibility, and that's a hopeful sign.

Of course when things go wrong for me, it's always someone else's fault. Never mine.

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