Locus of control (LOC) is a term used to refer to individual perceptions regarding personal control, particularly with regard to control over important outcomes. For example, have you ever tried to convince someone to vote, emphasizing the impact his or her vote could have in an election? Have you ever known someone who did not apply for a job promotion, deciding instead that his or her hard work did not matter as much as “who you know”? These examples illustrate how our motivation for performing a particular task may be influenced by how much we feel our actions influence certain outcomes or, conversely, the extent to which we feel end results will be due to forces outside of our control.
What Is Locus Of Control?
Julian Rotter first proposed the concept of LOC in 1966 while attempting to develop a more accurate model of social learning theory (SLT), a theoretical model that predicts the likelihood that a person will exhibit a particular behavior. Much of the work calculating human behavior up until that point adhered to a strict behavioral model. That is, it examined the execution of behavior as being contingent primarily on how rewarding the end result would be for an individual. Rotter was one of the first to incorporate a cognitive component to this model, stating that behavior is not simply contingent on the value of the reinforcer, or end goal. Rotter theorized that the extent to which a person believed that his or her behavior could affect the outcome of an event would also contribute to whether the behavior was executed. SLT has since been expanded on, but this expectancy component is still considered to be an important factor in predicting behavior. It is this expectancy belief regarding an outcome that is referred to as LOC.
A person’s LOC can be either internal or external. Internal LOC is the belief that a person’s actions or involvement in a given situation can directly affect the attainment of a particular reinforcer. For example, if Tom thinks that studying will better prepare a person for an exam, and that this preparedness will increase the likelihood of getting an “A,” then Tom likely possesses an internal LOC and will probably study diligently for his exam. Conversely, external LOC is the belief that the attainment of a goal has little to do with one’s involvement or actions, but is instead due to outside forces such as luck, chance, or the control of powerful others. Relating this to the previous example, Ty may believe that a person cannot predict the exam’s content, thereby leaving his or her performance up to chance. Ty would be less likely to study for the exam because he presumes that individuals’ actions have little influence over the outcome of the test.
As LOC theories gained popularity, many other theories were proposed examining constructs incorporated into a person’s perceived control of a situation. One of those components, self-efficacy, is often confused with LOC, and for that reason, a distinction should be made. LOC is a person’s belief regarding the degree to which external events are a product of individual effort or of forces outside of individual control, in general. Self-efficacy, on the other hand, is a person’s perceptions of his or her own specific ability to perform the behavior necessary to achieve a particular outcome. It is more orientated toward a person’s opinion of his or her own personal competencies in pursuing a goal.
Problems Defining Locus Of Control
When the concept of LOC was first introduced, a wealth of literature was published exploring the concept. One of the major criticisms of many of these earlier studies was that it examined the concept in isolation, neglecting other facets of Rotter’s SLT. The exclusion of other components (such as the value of the reinforcer to the individual) was misleading because it examined LOC out of context and affected its capacity to predict behavior. Most of the current literature attempts to place LOC within an SLT framework. For instance, when assessing the extent to which Lisa will attempt to quit smoking, we examine more than simply the degree to which Lisa believes quitting smoking will improve her health (LOC). We must also take into account how much Lisa appreciates her health (reinforcer value) and how capable she sees herself of being able to quit (self-efficacy).
A second criticism of early research is that it frequently mislabeled LOC as a trait characteristic (i.e., a personality characteristic that is fixed throughout the life span). Although this issue is still debated, the majority consensus is that LOC evolves as a person develops and encounters new experiences. Additionally, research also suggests that LOC can change depending on specific situations. Although it is possible to assess a person’s general LOC beliefs, a more accurate account measures their beliefs as they relate to the situation being examined. For instance, a measure of a person’s political LOC would be more predictive of their voting behavior than their general LOC. Thus, unlike some early perceptions of LOC as a fixed and invariant construct, more recent conceptualizations suggest that LOC is responsive to an individual’s experiences, circumstances, and level of development.
A third criticism of the LOC literature is that an internal LOC is frequently misperceived as being intrinsically beneficial. This stems from the increased motivation often associated with an internal LOC. Although an internal LOC is sometimes beneficial, this is not always the case. People who view themselves as the operative force in attaining a desired result may also place unnecessary blame on themselves when they do not achieve their goal. They may think they have more power to influence a situation than they actually do. This inflated sense of effectiveness may also affect the person’s adaptability, including the person’s ability to take direction or work as part of a team.
Assessment Of Locus Of Control
LOC is measured using self-report assessments typically created for specific age groups. These assessments are available for populations spanning from preschool age to the elderly, as well as for people of various races and ethnicities. In general, LOC assessments do not simply identify someone as internal or external, but place individuals on a continuum spanning the two. Along this continuum, people may be identified as being “more internal” or “more external.” Some common LOC measures include the Internal-External Locus of Control Scale, the Adult Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External Control Scale, the Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External Control Scale for Children, Crandall’s Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Scale, and the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale. Validity for LOC scales typically relies on the scale’s ability to predict behavior, the degree to which a measure correlates with other established LOC measures, and the extent to which it discriminates between conceptually different LOCs.
Consistent with modern conceptualizations, LOC assessments can be structured towards a person’s general LOC beliefs or LOC beliefs with regard to a specific situation, event, or condition. Some of the more popular situation-specific LOC scales target areas such as health, school, and work and have helped predict variables such as adherence to medical regimens, academic achievement, and vocational success. In general, these specific LOC measures have demonstrated superior predictive validity when compared with the more general LOC measures. The knowledge gained from LOC scales can help guide interventions striving toward helping people achieve maximum benefit in their respective circumstances.
Locus Of Control And Development
Developmental trends in LOC are best examined using general LOC measures (as opposed to situation-specific measures). This is because many of the situation-specific measures target experiences that occur only within certain developmental stages. When examining age trends among more general measures, it is important to consider the role of a person’s cognitive development in how that person views his or her environment. Historical and cultural contexts are also important to take into account because societal values may influence a person’s perception of control.
LOC beliefs have been shown to change across development, in that children’s LOC beliefs tend to become more internal with increasing age. However, this is not a strictly linear trend. Research has shown a large increase in internal LOC at about sixth grade and a small decrease just before high school. This overall increase in internal LOC across childhood makes sense within the context of development: as children become more independent and self-sufficient (i.e., less reliant on parents), they tend to view their actions as being more instrumental in the attainment of goals. These internal LOC beliefs have been shown to stabilize in adulthood. Research has suggested that LOC beliefs later become more external as a person enters old age. This may be related to an increased dependence on others for personal needs such as health and finance.
LOC refers to a person’s beliefs regarding how instrumental individual effort is in achieving a desired result. A person who believes goal attainment is dependent on his or her personal efforts in a given situation is said to have a more internal LOC. On the other hand, a person who believes outcomes are the result of outside forces, such as luck or powerful others, is said to have a more external LOC. In general, LOC becomes more internal as a person develops through childhood and adolescence, remains consistent during adulthood, and becomes more external as one progresses through old age. Although general LOC measures are available, the most accurate predictor of a person’s behavior in a particular circumstance is a LOC measure specific to that situation.
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