WJEC AS Psychology PY2 - Langer and Rodin (1976)

Revision notes for aims and context, procedures, findings and conclusions, evaluation of methodology and alternative findings


Langer and Rodin (1976) - Aims and Context


  • control: where one has choice over the decisions and actions and to the extent in which one feels they can regulate their own behaviour and environment

Importance: important to see the importance of control because research done by Bengston (1973) and Butler (1967) show that more control results in more successful aging, measured by decreased mortality, morbidity and psychodisability, as an individual feels a sense of purpose and usefulness

Previous Research:

  • Langer, Janis + Wolfer (1975) found that inducing perception of control over stress in hospital patients by verbally communicating potential control, subjects requested fewer painkillers and sedatives and observed by staff as less anxious
  • Strotland + Bumenthal (1964) found subjects not given choice in making decision when to have a test became anxious, measured by palmar sweating
  • Ferrare (1962) found those who had no choice of residence when moving to a nursing home died within 10 weeks
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Langer + Rodin (1976) - Aims and Context


1) to investigate the effects of enhanced personal responsibility and choice in a group of nursing home patients, specifically if increased control has beneficial effects on mental alertness, activity, sociability and general satisfaction

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Langer and Rodin (1976) - Procedures

EXPERIMENT - field experiment: conducted in a real life environment

STEP 1: was to find nursing home and participants

  • Age: 65 - 90
  • Location: nursing home in Connecticut
  • Profile: residents of a nursing home

STEP 2: find participants within the nursing home

  • Conditions: 2 conditions: responsibility induced group (RIG) and comparison group (CG)2 floors as little communication between floors, similar patients, so unlikely treatment would be affected
  • Participants: 91: RIG = 8 males+39 females; CG = 9 males+35 females
  • Omitted participants: bed-riddenno verbal communication or wrong age

STEP 3: 1st questionnaire completed 1 week before meeting and by a female research assistant who was unaware of experimental hypotheses or treatment; assessed how much control patients felt they had over life and happy/active they felt; alertness was rated by the assistant too

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Langer and Rodin (1976) - Procedures Continued

STEP 4: have 2 separate meetings with RIG and CG by a 33 year old male nursing home administrator

  • RIG message: emphasis on resident's responsibility and importance of control and decision making
  • CG message: stressed staff responsibility for patients
  • a plant was then given to all patients in both groups: in RIG, they were given choice to have plant and what type; in CG, they were given NO choice of having the plant and type

STEP 5: 3 days later, nursing home administrator reinforced messages to both groups

STEP 6: 2nd questionnaire is completed 3 weeks after the meeting by nurses who staffed both floors and were unaware of experiment

  • assessed ratings of happiness, alertness, sociability, dependency, activity, eating and sleeping habits; also assessed proportion of time spent in activities such as reading, TV, visiting patients/family, talking to other staff etc.
  • behavioural measures also measured: attending movie night, jelly bean competition 
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Langer and Rodin (1976) - Findings + Conclusions

Results from Experiment:

  • pre-test ratings showed no significant differences between 2 floors, if any difference after treatment, would show effect from initial ratings
  • increase in happiness for both groups was: RIG = 48%, CG = 25%
  • other areas that increased for RIG were alertness and level of activity
  • RIG = 93% considered improved; CG = 21% considered improved
  • RIG activity increase: visiting people out of nursing home + talking to staff
  • RIG activity decrease: watching staff, reading and watching TV
  • level of movie attendance higher in RIG
  • 21% of the RIG took part in jelly bean competition
  • CG debilitated by 71% over the 3 weeks

Conclusions from Experiment:

  • making decisions for yourself, given decisions and responsibility for something else produces improvement in physical/mental elderly heath
  • negative consequences of aging can be reversed/avoided by allowing aging people to make decisions and have more control
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Langer and Rodin - Evaluate the Methodology


  • no experimenter bias: nurses/research assistants who administered questionnaires unaware of experiment aim; can't affect results
  • no demand characteristics: residents were unaware of study aims so won't change behaviour
  • similarity of residents: both floors similar, individual differences controlled, therefore any differences due to IV (control/no control)
  • high ecological validity: field experiment = real life environment and therefore can be generalised; conducted in natural settings = mundane realism and increases external validity


  • ethnocentric sample: low population validity as participants were only American, therefore differences in elderly people in other countries
  • subject self-report: happiness measured subjectively by nurses = could be biased/inaccurate
  • ethics: some participants in CG suffered psychological harm due to lack of choice; participants deceivedno informed consent/ no right to withdraw
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Langer and Rodin (1976) - Alternative Findings

1. Langer and Rodin (1977) SUPPORTS

  • 18 months later, went to see how participants were doing; before expt, 25% mortality rate for patients each year
  • RIG = decreased mortality to 15%
  • CG = increased mortality to 30%

SUPPORTS claim that psychological/physical health, social activity, happiness increases life expectancy because of indirect/direct effect of having control

2. Conen et al (1993) SUPPORTS

  • deliberately explosed pps to cold virus; CG not exposed to cold virus
  • significant positive correlation to condition exposed to cold virus with those stressed (lack of control)

SUPPORTS L+R as suggests lack of control means lack of immunity which can lead to illness and death

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Langer and Rodin (1976) - Alternative Findings

3. Wurm et al (2007) DEVELOPS/SUPPORTS

  • examined data from German aging study from 1000 participants
  • negative correlation between low levels of control and high levels of illness
  • found that other cognitive factors influence level of illness

DEVELOPS and SUPPORTS L+R as shows relationship between illness and lack of control and also shows other elements have an impact

4. Andersson et al (2007) SUPPORTS

  • 13 elderly patients in care home reported they felt they had insufficient self-determination
  • thought it was important for nurses to safe-guard opportunities for control

SUPPORTS L+R as it emphasises that elderly people want to have more control in order to feel more positive

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