After reading this article you will learn about the concept of locus of control. Also learn about its role in an individual’s behaviour.
The term ‘Locus of Control’ was originally introduced by Jean Rotter while dealing with the problem of learning in the context of reinforcement. According to Rotter, apart from the reinforcement as such, what is more important is how the learner perceives and interprets the occurrence or non-occurrence of reinforcement and expectancies associated with it.
To understand this concept we may try the following exercises. Just close your eyes for a few minutes and try to recollect the different types of activities and events you were engaged in during the past one week. Now certainly each one of us will have a list of activities. When we analyze these activities we will find that some of these activities arose out of your own active interest and because you wanted to engage in them.
There, of course, will be a few activities where you had to get involved because others wanted you to do so. In many instances there will also be a few events and activities where you got involved purely by chance or because of circumstances.
We may in fact see that the events and activities with which a person gets involved can be of three types:
(a) Some for which oneself is responsible;
(b) Some for which other persons are responsible and;
(c) Still some, which are due to chance, luck, fate, God etc.
Such perceptions and interpretations of one’s activities and events happening to oneself and attributing the responsibilities for the same is known as locus of control. Over the years and as a result of repeated experiences, people acquire and develop characteristics and stable ways of looking at events and the factors which control them and also expectancies.
Very often such ways become stubborn and almost assume the nature of a personality characteristic or styles, permitting us to classify and describe them in different categories. Such a trait or predisposition of interpreting the occurrence of events and developing expectancies is called Locus of Control.
When an individual predominantly perceives himself or herself as being responsible for the course of an event, this is called as internal Locus of Control. On the other hand when other people are being perceived as responsible and controlling the events, the Locus of Control is external and powerful others.
Thirdly, when the responsibility and control are attributed to fate, God etc. one speaks of Locus of Control-unknown others. The latter two categories of control by powerful others and control by unknown factors together constitute what may be called external Locus of Control. The concept first introduced by Rotter is defined by Connell as the degree to which a person believes himself or herself or other factors as being in control of events occurring in one’s life.
This definition perhaps appears as though Locus of Control appears to be related only to the individual’s belief or perception, but this is not so. The type and kind of Locus of Control is influenced by a number of factors like his personality, competence, skills, self-concept etc.
It may be seen that an individual’s perceived Locus of Control may relate to an event that has happened or to an event that is happening and outcome is not known, or also to an anticipated event. In all these cases the Locus of Control influences the person’s reactions to the situation and the others and also occurrence of specific action or behaviour.
Let us examine an instance where the perception of control or Locus of Control decides the occurrence of action. Imagine that you are working as the Labour Relations Officer in a factory and that the Union has called for a sudden strike. The Chief Executive Officer of the company requests you to take charge of the situation and tackle the strike.
Now what course of action will you take?
(a) If your Locus of Control is internal, you will try to take direct charge of the situation, talk to the labour leaders, address them and liaison between the workers and the management. Here two things happen. You assume it to be your responsibility to tackle the issue and you also believe you can do it.
(b) If your Locus of Control is external powerful others, you may start thinking that the situation can be controlled by a political leader or a trade union leader from outside; your action will then be in the direction of getting in touch with such a person, a powerful outsider and seek his help in dealing with the strike.
(c) If your Locus of Control is ‘unknown others’, you may perhaps start thinking that the firm is going through a bad period and that such things happen and things will be alright, or you may also imagine that nothing can be done and that the best thing will be to allow things to take their course and not to bother.
The following table gives a brief description of the relationship between the type of Locus of Control and the behaviour:
Thus if one may attempt some sort of a generalization about behavioural characteristics which are likely to distinguish people with external Locus of Control and people predominantly with an internal Locus of Control, the following suggest themselves. In general people with internal Locus of Control tend to be more confident, assertive and capable of initiative.
They tend to be more competitive and are generally not high in conformity. They often tend to resist the influence of others including groups, compared to external who tend to be more dependent, compromising, cooperative and less resistant to change.
Lynn and Hodge and Rainecotar in their studies found that in the case of school children, external Locus of Control tended to be associated to a greater degree with neurotic tendencies, impulsiveness and hyper-activity. Kelly Chial in a study which included samples from different nationality groups found, high external orientation to be associated with self-destructive behaviour like sorrowing, drinking etc.
Locus of Control is learned and acquired. The most important factor that has been shown to be associated is maternal socialisation. Mothers who were not permissive seem to contribute to the development of internal locus as different from mothers of children with external locus who are found to be overbearing and covert.
In general, while external or internal locus of control acquired by a person remains stable over time, nevertheless, seriously disturbing life events like death of close ones, serious illness etc. may bring about a change from internal to external orientation (Lumpkin).
At this point, one may naturally raise the question as to whether any particular type of Locus of Control is good and more contributory to adaptive behaviour. Is it always the case that internal Locus of Control is more conducive to better adaptive behaviour? An answer to this question does not appear to be possible. In fact in some instances a higher level of internal Locus of Control may lead to more harmful affective states than one of confidence or optimism.
Folkman observes that control would be more disturbing when:
a) the individual prefers not to have control but is given increased choice of participation – when the type of control is opposed to his preferred style,
b) when control is exercised at the cost of practical, mundane consequences,
c) there is a mismatch between the person’s appraisal of controllability in stressful encounter and the extent to which the situation is actually controllable – when the individual overestimates the controllability of factors in a stressful situation.
To integrate the above points it may be said that control brings in desirable effects by reducing anxiety and the tension levels depending upon the amount of efforts to exercise control. It is a well-known fact that an increase in effort results in physiological arousal and anxiety.
In a study of undergraduates Solman, Holmes & Mccaul found that the physiological arousal and anxiety resulting from the high effort – control, is more or less equal to physiological arousal of subjects who could not control the event. Hence in order to bring about desirable results the decision of exercising control on a situation should be made after weighing the stocks and the stakes.
Hitherto an attempt has been made to examine the perception of control on a current event, before the outcome is known. Now we may examine the perception of control after the outcome, of the event. Outcome of any event as is well-known can be a success or failure.
An individual’s perception of control over an event, where success was the outcome may be different from where failure was the outcome. The affective state resulting from success or failure, very much depends on the sources to which success or failure is attributed. An example probably will make this clear. Suppose you have passed your examination securing the first rank.
Then to what do you attribute the cause of your success? It should be one of the following:
1. My success is the result of the work I have put in—internal Locus of Control.
2. The credit goes to my teachers for having done their job very well and to my parents who were a source of constant help and encouragement. But for them I would not have been so successful. This indicates – external Locus of Control – powerful others.
3. It is due to God’s grace, my favourable star position etc. external unknown others.
Which of the above attributes would produce greater happiness? Certainly in most instances it is the first one where success is attributed to one’s own ability and effort. Thus, internal control wherein success is attributed to one’s own ability produces positive effect. Farland & Ross in a study with female undergraduate students found that their success produced positive effect and greater feeling of self-esteem only when it is attributed to one’s own ability and effort.
On the other hand attribution of success to other sources like teachers, parents etc. does not result in strong and lasting positive effect. The situation will be much worse, if an individual attributes success to external factors and on the other hand failure to one’s own self leading to low self-concept and self-esteem.
Sinha in a study of underprivileged university students, found that these students had a tendency to ascribe success to external factors like God, teacher’s kindness etc. and ascribing failures to oneself. This in turn reduced the self-esteem and affected the self-concept.
The expression attribution of success or failure to self is general, as self itself is a broad term. The term self in this context is used to include stable personal factors like ability, character, potentiality, etc. on the one hand, and also transient unstable personal factors like behaviour, effort etc.
Attribution of failure to unstable factors may not result in a deep and serious negative effect because there is still scope for success in the future. For example, one may put in greater effort and change one’s style and behaviour or even improve one’s health leading to success.
On the other hand attribution of failure to stable personal factors like one’s potentialities and character or heredity, is unhealthy because once an individual tends to attribute failure to such stable factors there may result a feeling of doom forever resulting in withdrawal behaviour and ‘learned helplessness’.
In the light of the above, a question may arise as to whether ascribing of success to external factors and failure to self invariably results in undesirable consequences. Again this question cannot be answered very definitely. This is because such personality related factors in turn depend to a large extent upon cultural expectations.
It may not be farfetched to say that Locus of Control is closely associated with cultural variations. It is generally said Internal Locus of Control is very much appreciated and encouraged in contemporary western culture while external control is not.
On the contrary in Indian culture perception of external control especially after the outcome of an event is more or less expected. For example, statements like ‘it is all due to God’s blessings. I was destined to lose and hence I lost etc. are expected forms of explanation for success or failure.
The former may be viewed as an expression of modesty and the latter taken philosophically. If the expression of modesty is only a means to gain social acceptance and taking recourse to philosophical utterances helps one to save one’s self-esteem or esteem in the eyes of others.
Locus of Control and Social Behaviour:
The reader from the above discussion must be in a position to appreciate the mediating role of Locus of Control on an individual’s behaviour including social perception and behaviour. Locus of Control definitely influences one’s reaction to success and failure.
This reaction in turn can influence one’s behaviour in relation to others and events. Perception of the actions of others and interpretations of the same can definitely be mediated by one’s Locus of Control. Learned helplessness and social dependency characteristic of many disadvantaged groups may be certainly a result of the operation of external Locus of Control, nurtured in these groups.
The issue of the crucial role of Locus of Control has certainly generated a large volume of research. In fact, among the many behavioural variables which have been researched upon. Locus of Control is one of the most prominent.
In the words of Blass, ‘Locus of Control is unquestionably the most widely used personality variable in contemporary research in personality and social psychology’. In the words of Carlson, Locus of Control is undoubtedly the single most popular topic in current personality research.
According to Strickland, research on Locus of Control was initiated in the mid-50s at the Ohio State University. The publication of Rotter’s scale for measurement of Locus of Control gave an impetus to further research on this construction. Locus of Control is often used as an expectancy Variable and tends to explain behaviour in terms of expectancy reinforcements and other psychological situations.
Atkinson points to other similar concepts like the need for achievement which have been popular in personality research, motivational research and psychological research.
A few examples of the research relating to the Locus of Control are given below:
Locus of Control has shown relation to work alienation, job satisfaction, job enrichment and leadership style. Externals tend to be more alienated from their work and less satisfied with their work compared to internals Anderson & Schenier showed internal leaders were more successful in leading groups than externals.
Internal managers are more task-oriented and effective in stress situations than externals. The internal leaders use more persuasive power, while, externals use coercive power. In contrast internals are more satisfied in participative climate. Miller observed that internal chief executives tended to pursue more product market innovations, undertake greater risks and lead rather than follow.
When cognitive tasks are considered, the internals have been found to outperform the externals, both in intentional and incidental learning. Internals can retrieve pertinent information and adequate cues which subsequently facilitate their performance and judgement respectively.
Strickland commented ‘research on information processing and task performance clearly suggests that internals may be more achievement striving than externals. They seem to be able to take advantage of situations to improve task performance and engage in goal directed behaviour’. Other studies have found that internally controlled managers are better performers, are more considerate of subordinates, tend not to bum out and follow a more strategic style of executive action.
The implications of these studies is that internally controlled managers are better than externally controlled managers. However, such generalisations are not justified because there is some contradictory evidence. For example, one study concluded that the ideal manager may have an external orientation because the results indicated that externally controlled managers were perceived as initiating more structure and consideration than internally controlled managers.
A review article concludes that Locus of Control is related to the performance and satisfaction of organization members and may moderate the relationship between motivation and incentives. The above cited investigations are but a small sample, illustrative of the crucial role of Locus of Control in mediating behaviour, information process, social relationship, leadership behaviour and many other categories of social behaviour.