Before you read any further, first think about a time that you felt in control of an important situation.
OK, got it? Now go ahead and visit “How people respond to feeling a lack of control” (Ed Yong’s summary and commentary on Whitson & Galinsky’s 2008 Science paper).
(I suspect the psychiatrists here will tell me that they already knew this phenomenon and have used it to help their patients develop healthier attitudes and more productive habits.)
I think it’s interesting to consider how this phenomenon could be related to Steele’s research on stereotype threat and Dweck’s research on beliefs about intelligence as fixed vs. malleable. Someone who feels less control over a threatening situation may be more susceptible to perceiving false patterns that interfere with deeper learning. Steele’s and Dweck’s (and their colleagues’) manipulations (of presenting them positive but not overly demanding stereotypes, or encouraging them to think of intelligence as malleable) strengthen students’ feelings of control. Such an approach could help learning, not just performance, and through a specific mechanism.
J. A. Whitson, A. D. Galinsky (2008). Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception Science, 322 (5898), 115-117 DOI: 10.1126/science.1159845