The effects of constraints and mastery on mental and physical health: Conceptual and methodological considerations

Frank Infurna, Axel Mayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Perceived control and health are closely interrelated in adulthood and old age. However, less is known regarding the differential implications of 2 facets of perceived control, constraints and mastery, for mental and physical health. Furthermore, a limitation of previous research testing the pathways linking perceived control to mental and physical health is that mediation was tested with cross-sectional designs and not in a longitudinal mediation design that accounts for temporal ordering and prior confounds. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; n = 7,612, M age = 68, SD = 10.66; 59% women) we examined the effect of constraints and mastery on 4-year changes in mental and physical health and whether physical activity mediated such effects in a longitudinal mediation design. Using confirmatory factor analysis, we modeled the 2-factor structure of perceived control that consisted of constraints and mastery. In our longitudinal mediation model, where we accounted for possible confounders (e.g., age, gender, education, neuroticism, conscientiousness, memory, and health conditions), constraints showed a stronger total effect on mental and physical health, than mastery, such that more constraints were associated with 4-year declines in mental and physical health. Physical activity did not mediate the effect of constraints and mastery on mental and physical health (indirect effect). To demonstrate the importance of a longitudinal mediation model that accounts for confounders, we also estimated the mediated effect using 2 models commonly used in the literature: cross-sectional mediation model and longitudinal mediation model without accounting for confounders. These mediation models indicated a spurious indirect effect that cannot be causally interpreted. Our results showcase that constraints and mastery have differential implications for mental and physical health, as well as how a longitudinal mediation design can illustrate (or not) pathways in developmental processes. Our discussion focuses on the conceptual and methodological implications of a 2 facet model of perceived control and the strengths of longitudinal mediation designs for testing conceptual models of human development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-448
Number of pages17
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Adulthood and old age
  • Confirmatory factor analysis
  • Health and retirement study (HRS)
  • Mediation
  • Sense of control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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