Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Locus of Control

Benjamin Franklin Gates: Of all the ideas that became the United States, there's a line here that's at the heart of all the others. 'When in a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and provide new guards for their future security.
Riley Poole. Beautiful. I have no idea what you just said.
Benjamin Franklin Gates: It means that if there's something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action.
--National Treasure

Locus of control (Rotter, 1966) is a construct of personal psychology that considers the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events and outcomes affecting them.

People with strong internal locus of control believe that events in their life derive primarily from their own actions. They believe that hard work leads to positive personal outcomes. They believe that all actions have consequences, and that more control over those consequences depends on them.

People with strong external locus of control believe that their behavior and outcomes depends on environmental factors that cannot be influences, or by chance or fate. They tend to praise or blame others for their success and failures. They tend to be more subject to disease and stress than internally grounded people.

Bi-locals are individuals with mixtures of internal and external characteristics. Bi-locals can take personal responsibility for their actions while remaining open to depending and having faith in others.

I have seen several papers published in organizational research that feature locus of control as a main or control variables in studies of organizational behavior (leadership, supervision, etc.). What seems most interesting to me, however, is locus of control as an outcome variable--i.e., how a particular locus is acquired or how it might shift from one position to another over time.

Such studies might lend explanatory power to many social phenomena that we currently observe, including those related to trends in politics and candidate support.


Rotter, J.B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80(1): 1-28.

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