Improvisation control: an alternative mode of control in low socioeconomic status environments

Marshall, Charlotte Anne
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University of Delaware
The finding that low socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with decreased psychological well-being and low academic achievement is well established in psychological literature. Less well delineated are the mechanisms and processes that permit some low SES individuals to achieve positive outcomes. While several investigators have shifted from a deficit-based perspective to a focus on successful outcomes in the face of adversity, i.e., resilience (Luthar, 1991), studies have not emerged focusing on how culturally sensitive measures of control might also be associated with positive outcomes. Currently, studies suggest that low SES individuals with strong control beliefs (i.e. the extent to which a person believes she or he can influence outcomes) are able to increase the likelihood of experiencing positive outcomes. In this dissertation, I argue that improvisation control-- the ability to capitalize on skills such as creativity and flexibility to experience control--is one culturally sensitive mechanism that facilitates success among low SES individuals. In, I conduct secondary data collection analysis to provide preliminary support for the proposed link between control beliefs and the achievement of positive outcomes with mothers of children participating in the Head Start program (Study 1, N=152) and with a low SES sample of high school students (Study 2, N=1412). In Study 3, I explore how improvisation control differentially affects the achievement of successful outcomes for high and low SES college students (N=117) compared to traditional measures of control. Finally, Study 4 examines how improvisation control among high and low SES students (N=189) may vary based on the student's environment (four-year traditional collegiate environment vs. two year nontraditional collegiate environment). In conclusion, these studies provide evidence that traditional and nontraditional modes of control are related to positive outcomes (i.e. positive psychological well-being and academic performance) differentially for students in various socioeconomic status environments.