We propose that people protect the belief in a controlled, nonrandom world by imbuing their social, physical, and metaphysical environments with order and structure when their sense of personal control is threatened. We demonstrate that when personal control is threatened, people can preserve a sense of order by (a) perceiving patterns in noise or adhering to superstitions and conspiracies, (b) defending the legitimacy of the sociopolitical institutions that offer control, or (c) believing in an interventionist God. We also present evidence that these processes of compensatory control help people cope with the anxiety and discomfort that lacking personal control fuels, that it is lack of personal control specifically and not general threat or negativity that drives these processes, and that these various forms of compensatory control are ultimately substitutable for one another. Our model of compensatory control offers insight into a wide variety of phenomena, from prejudice to the idiosyncratic rituals of professional athletes to societal rituals around weddings, graduations, and funerals.

Aaron C. Kay, J. Whitson, D. Gaucher, and Adam Galinsky
Journal Article
Publication Date
Current Directions in Psychological Science

Full Citation

Kay, Aaron C., J. Whitson, D. Gaucher, and Adam Galinsky
. “Compensatory control: Achieving order through the mind, our institutions, and the heavens.”
Current Directions in Psychological Science
, (January 01, 2009):