When it comes to your health, how much control do you feel you have over the outcomes?
Some people believe their actions are directly related to health outcomes, whereas others believe that no matter what actions they take, the end result will ultimately be the same as it is outside of their control. This is known as ‘health locus of control’ and is measured on a scale from ‘external’ to ‘internal’. Those with internal health locus of control are more likely to take control of their own health and maintain physical well-being than those with external locus of control.
It might be clear to you whether you have an internal or external locus of control, or perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle. If you identify as having an external locus of control, you may find it harder to follow lifestyle advice, and feel motivated to make lifestyle changes.
Sometimes, we may believe that we have control of our health but do not feel at risk of health implications. It’s common to think “it won’t happen to me”, this is known as ‘unrealistic optimism’ which occurs when people believe that they are less likely to experience the negative health outcome or, if experienced, it will be less severe. Of course, optimism can be extremely beneficial in many areas of our life, however if we’re overly optimistic when it comes to our health, it can impact our decision making e.g., missing a health screening, or not taking action to prevent future health conditions.
Everyone has different beliefs around health and scientists developed a tool called the health belief model to understand health behaviours. According to the health belief model there are key factors that influence someone’s approach to health:
These are all things that research has found to be important considerations when we look at health behaviour and motivation. Of course, these things will be different for everyone, and influenced by lots of factors including age, gender, where we live, level of our education and our income.
Why does all this matter?
As we’ve discussed, there are many different factors that influence how we perceive health, illness, and our risk, which explain why health beliefs and risk perception varies across individuals, cultures, and age. It can be helpful to take some time to reflect on our own health beliefs e.g.
Rosenstock, I. M. (1966). Why people use health services. Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 44, 94-127.
Wallston, K. A., Wallston, B. S., & DeVellis, R. (1978). Development of the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control (MHLC) Scales. Health education monographs, 6(2), 160–170.
Weinstein, N. D. (1982). Unrealistic optimism about susceptibility to health. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 5, 441-460