Compensatory Control Theory: Unlocking How Humans Ingeniously Seek Order in Chaotic Times

by | Mar 4, 2023 | Dead Drop Dialect™ | 0 comments

In today’s increasingly complex society, marked by swift societal shifts and frequently unfathomable phenomena, an understanding of Compensatory Control Theory becomes pivotal. This psychological theory, steeped in the intricacies of human behaviour, posits that in the face of unsettling chaos or perceived lack of control, individuals tend to seek structure, order and predictability to regain a sense of mastery over their world. Through a multitude of manifestations such as adherence to rituals, political and religious ideologies, or even conspiracy theories, this theory uncovers the often overlooked human quest for equilibrium. As such, Compensatory Control Theory becomes a powerful analytical lens, casting light on various contemporary social movements and their underpinning psychological dynamics.

While examining the phenomena of BLM and Anti-lockdown protests, as well as QAnon during my time at university, I developed a keen interest in social psychology. In particular, I became fascinated by Compensatory Control Theory, which posits that individuals have a basic need to perceive the world as orderly and structured. One of the papers that explores this theory in-depth is “Seeking structure in social organization: compensatory control and the psychological advantages of hierarchy” (Friesen et al., 2014). This paper argues that both personal and external sources of control can satisfy this need for order and structure, as they provide a comforting belief that the world operates in a predictable fashion.

The world is a complicated place. From politics to race relations to so-called ‘public health’, it can feel overwhelming to try and make sense of it all. This is where the idea of compensatory control theory comes in. The theory proposes that people have a basic need to perceive the world as orderly, predictable, and structured. When individuals feel uncertain or lack control over their environment, they engage in cognitive and behavioural strategies to compensate for this perceived lack of control. These compensatory strategies can include seeking out information, relying on superstitions or rituals, and perceiving patterns or order where none may exist.

In essence, Compensatory Control Theory suggests that individuals have a natural inclination to create structure and order in their lives, even when the world around them may be chaotic or unpredictable. By doing so, they can gain a sense of control and reduce their feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress.

While conducting my research on the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-lockdown protests, and QAnon, I observed that the concept of compensatory control theory was evident in all of these movements. Specifically, I noted that groups experiencing perceived grievances or situational complexities often sought a straightforward and structured external explanation for their problems.

The Black Lives Matter movement is an example of how the black community’s struggles were attributed to “systemic racism.” which was facilitated by the real-world manifestation of Critical Race Theory. This concept provided a way for race baiters to blame an intangible and all-powerful foe, which was always just beyond the movement’s reach. Meanwhile, ‘Ideological Mercenaries’ took advantage of this invisible enemy to advance their revolutionary agenda by exploiting the anger of some of the most marginalised people in society. These individuals, who lacked a deep understanding of economics and government policy, operated based on emotion and sought a solution and a leader to address their grievances.

The compensatory control theory suggests that individuals seek order in their lives during chaotic times. One example of this theory is the sudden desire for religion in those who were once staunch atheists. This “born-again” phenomenon often occurs after a turbulent period in their lives, and faith provides the structure and reasoning that humans crave. I acknowledge that this may be a controversial point for you, the reader, however, whether a coming to faith is truly mystical or simply psychological in nature, CCT can still provide an explanation of what the end result provides for an individual on a psychological level.

The QAnon movement is a perfect example of how compensatory control theory plays out in conspiracy theories. It relied on disenfranchised voters to rally around a leader, Trump in this instance. The movement provided very structured reasoning, albeit through cryptic means, to allow adherents to feel that there was a sense of overarching order in an otherwise orderless world. “Trust the plan” became a rallying cry for those who felt they had no control over their lives. Finally, this movement demonstrates how conspiracy theories can offer compensatory control for those who feel powerless.

When analysing the susceptibility of a group to nefarious influence, it is interesting to consider CCT while looking at the active players on the field today. It’s important to reiterate our requirement to avoid looking horizontally, as the powers that be intend us to do. Instead, we should look vertically, as that is where the puppet master sits.

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