Today’s issue of the American Association’ for the Advancement of
Science’s journal *Science* (Vol. 322. no. 5898) includes an article:
“Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception.”

(some key points highlighted by blogger, not in original)

Jennifer A. Whitson and Adam D. Galinsky are the authors.

Here’s the abstract: “We present six experiments that tested whether
lacking control increases illusory pattern perception, which we define
as the identification of a coherent and meaningful interrelationship
among a set of random or unrelated stimuli. Participants who lacked
control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns,
including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock
market information, perceiving conspiracies, and developing
Additionally, we demonstrated that increased pattern
perception has a motivational basis by measuring the need for structure
directly and showing that the causal link between lack of control and
illusory pattern perception is reduced by affirming the self. Although
these many disparate forms of pattern perception are typically discussed
as separate phenomena, the current results suggest that there is a
common motive underlying them.”

Here’s how the article begins: “The desire to combat uncertainty and
maintain control has long been considered a primary and fundamental
motivating force in human life (1-3) and one of the most important
variables governing psychological well-being and physical health (4-6).
For example, when individuals can control, or even just perceive that
they can control, the duration of painful shocks, they show lower
(7); similarly, learning details about a painful medical
procedure can reduce anxiety
and even lead to shorter recovery time (8).
In contrast, lacking control is an unsettling and aversive state,
activating the amygdala, which indicates a fear response (9). It is not
surprising, then, that individuals actively try to reestablish control
when it disappears or is taken away (10).”

Here’s how the article ends: “The current research offers insights into
how illusory pattern perception driven by a lack of control may be
overcome. When individuals were made to feel psychologically secure
after lacking control, they were less prone to the perception of
illusory patterns.
Indeed, the beneficial effects of this sense of
security are tapped into by psychotherapy, which attempts to give
clients a sense of control over their lives to reduce the obsessive-
compulsive tendencies or sinister attributions engendered by seeing too
much meaning and intentions in others’ innocuous behaviors.

Collectively, the six experiments highlight the importance of having
versus lacking control and hold promise for preventing futile pursuits
born of the perception of illusory patterns.”