Developmental Barriers and the Benefits of Disengagement

Martin J. Tomasik

ISBN 978-3-8325-2520-0
261 pages, year of publication: 2010
price: 38.50 €
Social change confronts individuals with demands that index a new state of affairs as compared to what they were accustomed to. This book is a psychological investigation about how individuals deal with these demands in the domains of work and family when opportunities for their mastery are unfavorable. Theoretical considerations and empirical research suggest that with unattainable goals and unmanageable demands motivational disengagement and self-protective cognitions bring about superior outcomes than continued goal striving.

Building on research on developmental deadlines by Jutta Heckhausen and colleagues, this paper introduces the concept of developmental barriers to address socioeconomic conditions of severely constrained opportunities in certain geographical regions. Mixed-effects methods were used to model cross-level interactions between individual-level compensatory secondary control and regional-level opportunity structures in terms of social indicators for the economic prosperity and family friendliness. Results showed that disengagement was positively associated with general life satisfaction in regions that were economically devastated and has less than average services for families. In regions that were economically well off and family-friendly, the association was negative.

Similar results were found for self-protection concerning domain-specific satisfaction with life. These finding, however, seem to refer only to individuals who have found alternative fields of engagement such as a civic initiative or the parish community. This indicates that the central functionality of self-protection and disengagement is to free up resources for pursuing alternative goals that would be otherwise wasted into futile goal striving with the blocked goal. The results furthermore showed that dispositional optimism has a positive association with self-protection and disengagement under unfavorable ecologic conditions. All these findings suggest that compensatory secondary control can be an adaptive way of mastering demands when primary control is not possible.

This book has been awarded the German Study Prize/Recognition Award by the Körber Foundation in Hamburg for its scientific excellence and societal significance.

  • developmental regulation
  • Social change
  • Primary and secondary control
  • Globalization
  • Life-span theory of control
  • Social ecology
  • Disengagement
  • Opportunity structures
  • ubjective well-beingi
  • Civic Engagement

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