I Think I Can – The Association Between Control Beliefs and Activity Engagement in the Second Half of Life

Author: Rachel Curtis

Curtis, Rachel, 2017 I Think I Can – The Association Between Control Beliefs and Activity Engagement in the Second Half of Life, Flinders University, School of Psychology

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Activity engagement, for example, participation in social, physical, and mental activities, is often considered a hallmark of successful ageing and is associated with a range of positive outcomes in emotional, cognitive, and physical domains. Despite the benefits of remaining active in later life, activity engagement tends to decline with age. A comprehensive understanding of the factors that correlate with activity is required as a first step in developing interventions to facilitate engagement. Control beliefs, a type of psychological resource that includes perceived control and self-efficacy, may play an important role in protecting against age-related activity decline. Individuals with greater control beliefs have greater confidence in their ability to achieve outcomes and may be more likely to choose difficult activities, show persistence, and employ strategies to overcome barriers to activity. This thesis used secondary analysis of three datasets and primary data from a cross-sectional survey to examine whether reliable associations exist between control beliefs and activity in midlife and older adults. The research addresses gaps in the literature and makes an original contribution to knowledge by using multiple time scales, examining non-physical (and physical) activity, and examining possible processes underlying the control–activity associations.

The first study used cross-lagged autoregressive modelling with data from the German Ageing Survey to examine reciprocal longitudinal associations between perceived control and social activity. Perceived control was shown to significantly predict social activity 3 years later. Reciprocally, social activity predicted perceived control 3 years later. The influence of perceived control on social activity was greater than the influence of social activity on perceived control.

The second study used multilevel growth curve modelling with data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing to examine whether perceived control moderated the effects of functional limitation on 18-year trajectories of social activity. Results indicated that having greater baseline functional limitation was associated with less social activity and greater decline in social activity for those with lower perceived control, but not for those with higher perceived control.

The third study complements longitudinal research by using daily diary data from a sample of midlife and older adults to examine short-term within-person covariation between self-efficacy and activity. Results from multilevel modelling analyses indicated that participants reported engaging in more social and physical (but not mental) activity on days when self-efficacy was higher.

The fourth and final study used structural equation modelling with data from a new cross-sectional survey to examine perceived ease of activity and use of selection, optimisation, and compensation (SOC) strategies as possible mechanisms underlying the relationship between self-efficacy and activity in midlife and older adults. Perceived ease of activity, but not SOC strategies, was found to mediate the associations of self-efficacy with social and physical (but not mental) activity.

This thesis helps to build a comprehensive understanding of the association between control beliefs and activity in older adults. The findings suggest that control beliefs may play an important role in enabling older adults to maintain more activity as they age and have the potential to inform the development of programs aimed at promoting active ageing.

Keywords: control beliefs, self-efficacy, activity, social engagement, older adults

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Psychology
Supervisor: Dr Tim Windsor