Locus of Control Theory In Psychology: Internal vs External

Understanding the concept of locus of control can take us on an enlightening journey into the human mind. It reveals insights into how we perceive our ability to control our lives. This psychological theory introduces us to two contrasting perspectives: internal and external loci of control.

Those with a high internal locus tend to believe that they have the power to shape their destiny through their actions. On the other hand, those with an external locus see their lives as being influenced by external factors beyond their control.

Locus of Control has been defined as a psychological concept that refers to how much individuals believe they control the situations and experiences that affect their lives. This concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954 and is considered an essential aspect of personality.

An individual’s locus of control can be internal (believing that one’s actions significantly influence other health-related behaviors and outcomes) or external (considering that external factors dictate other health-related behaviors and results).

The locus of control construct is a fundamental element within social learning theory and has been applied extensively in clinical psychology. This blog dives deeper into these concepts, exploring how they impact our behavior, motivation, and overall psychological well-being. Let’s get started!

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Internal Locus of Control (robust)

Individuals possessing a strong internal locus of control believe that the events in their lives are primarily the result of their actions. They feel they can shape their destiny through their decisions and efforts. To them, success is not a matter of luck but hard work and perseverance.

If they fail, they see it as an opportunity for self-improvement rather than blaming it on external or internal factors. Such a perspective often correlates with higher motivation levels, self-discipline, and a proactive approach to challenges. They tend to be self-motivated, goal-oriented, and confident in their ability to effect change.

Atypical Expectancy Shifts

Atypical Expectancy Shifts” refers to less common or unusual changes in people’s beliefs, expectations, or perceptions that may deviate from typical patterns. These shifts may occur for various reasons and can have unique implications for an individual’s cognition, behavior, and decision-making.

Let’s illustrate with some examples to understand atypical expectancy shifts better. Consider John, a successful entrepreneur with a strong internal locus of control concept. He believes his success is due to his hard work and strategic decisions.

After a sudden market crash leading to his business’s failure, he might experience an atypical expectancy shift towards an external locus of control, attributing the failure not to his actions but to uncontrollable economic factors.

On the flip side, we have Lisa, who has always believed that her life is shaped by fate and circumstances beyond her control, indicative of an external locus. After taking up a new hobby and excelling through dedicated practice, she might experience an atypical expectancy shift towards an internal, realizing that her efforts can lead to success.

These examples illustrate how impactful experiences can cause significant shifts in one’s locus of control, affecting one’s perspective on life and psychological well-being.

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External Locus of Control

People with an external locus of control perceive that their lives are majorly influenced by external factors they have no control over, such as fate, luck, or others’ actions. To them, success and failure are less about their actions and more about external circumstances and influences.

For instance, if they perform poorly on a test, they might attribute it to the difficulty of the questions rather than their preparation. Similarly, if they succeed at a task, they might credit their success to luck rather than their efforts.

Let’s consider a couple of examples. Imagine Sarah, a student who studied hard for a test but still scored lower than expected. Instead of acknowledging that she might need to change her study habits or seek help, she blames the teacher for setting unusually tough questions.

In another scenario, imagine Tom, a sales executive who managed to close a big deal. Instead of attributing the achievement to his negotiation skills or diligent research, he credits his success to good luck or the client’s good mood.

These examples show how individuals with an external health locus out of their internal health locus tend to attribute their experiences and other health locus-related behaviors and outcomes to factors beyond their health locus.

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Typical Expectancy Shifts

Expectancy shifts typically occur when an individual’s experiences cause a change in their locus of control. For instance, a person with a predominantly external locus might shift towards an internal locus after a series of events where their efforts lead to successful outcomes.

This shift is often gradual, reflecting the accumulation of experiences that challenge their initial belief system and own behavior and behavior. On the other hand, an individual with a solid internal locus could shift towards a more external control locus after facing multiple situations where their efforts did not yield the desired results.

These shifts in locus can profoundly affect an individual’s self-esteem, motivation, and overall mental health.

The role of locus of control in everyday life

The locus of a high internal locus of control index plays a prominent role in how individuals perceive and navigate their everyday lives. For instance, Mary, a college student with a solid internal locus, might take ownership of her academic performance.

If she fails an exam, she’s likely to attribute it to her lack of preparation rather than blaming it on the complexity of the exam. Consequently, she will aim to improve her study habits to perform better in the future.

In contrast, a sales manager with an external locus, Jack, might attribute his team’s poor performance to the market conditions or the poor quality of leads rather than examining his team’s sales strategies or leadership skills.

Such an outlook could hinder Jack’s growth as a leader, as he might not take the necessary actions to improve the situation within his control.

As we can see, the locus of control significantly influences just how much power we have over how we perceive our successes and failures, shaping our actions and reactions in daily life. It impacts our motivation, decision-making process, and overall approach to life’s challenges and opportunities.

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What are the two types of locus of control?

The two types of control refer to AS internal control and external.

Individuals with an internal locus believe that they have control over their own lives and that their actions significantly impact the outcomes they experience.

For instance, Linda, a diligent student, believes that her grades directly result from her study habits. If she receives a high quality, she attributes it to her hard work and thorough preparation. Conversely, if she gets a low rate, she blames it on her lack of or ineffective studying, encouraging herself to work harder in the future.

On the other hand, those with an external locus perceive that their lives are primarily influenced by outer factors they have no control over.

For example, James, a professional athlete, believes that his performance is primarily dictated by luck or circumstances beyond his control. If he wins a game, he attributes it to chance or a weak opponent. If he loses, he blames it on bad luck or unfair officiating rather than reflecting on how he could improve his skills or strategies.

A comparison of internal versus external locus of control

When comparing the internal locus of an external or more internal locus, it’s evident that both perspectives can significantly shape an individual’s attitude and response toward life events. For those with an often high internal or more external locus, like Linda, there’s a strong belief that their actions and decisions directly influence their outcomes.

This mindset encourages personal responsibility, promotes active problem-solving, and often leads to high motivation, as these individuals believe their efforts can effect change.

Individuals with an external locus, such as James, attribute outcomes to factors beyond their control only. While this mindset can sometimes protect individuals from experiencing guilt or self-blame after failure, it can also lead to passive behavior, reduced motivation, or feelings of helplessness, as their outcomes are perceived to be independent of their actions.

To illustrate, consider two employees dealing with job insecurity. With an internal locus, Tom might take proactive steps, such as expanding his skills or networking within his industry, believing his actions can influence his employment status.

Conversely, with an external locus, Susan might feel helpless or anxious, believing that her job security is entirely in the hands of the economy or company decisions, factors she perceives to be beyond her control.

Understanding these differences between two perspectives can be vital in various walks of life, including education, corporate settings, other health-related behaviors, mental health, psychology, and others. It helps tailor strategies to foster resilience, motivation, and personal growth.

Characteristics of an internal locus of control

Individuals who have an internal locus of control typically exhibit several vital characteristics. Firstly, they usually demonstrate a strong sense of self-efficacy and personal responsibility, believing that their actions, decisions, and efforts directly influence the occurrences and outcomes in their life. This belief often motivates them to take the initiative and act proactively.

Secondly, individuals with an internal locus tend to be more goal-oriented and persistent. They believe their actions can lead to desired outcomes, encouraging them to set personal goals and persist in facing obstacles or setbacks. They are more likely to view challenges as growth opportunities rather than insurmountable hurdles.

Thirdly, these individuals typically exhibit higher self-esteem and confidence levels as they perceive their behaviors and life outcomes to be within control. They tend to feel more capable and empowered, and this can foster resilience in the face of adversity.

Finally, individuals with an internal locus are usually more inclined to seek information and learn new skills. Believing that their outcomes are influenced by their knowledge and skills, they are likely to seek opportunities for learning and self-improvement actively.

Characteristics of an external locus of control

Individuals with an external locus of control also exhibit several distinct characteristics. Firstly, they often perceive that external forces such as fate, luck, or powerful others significantly influence their behavior and life outcomes. This belief can lead them to feel that they have little to no control over the events and situations in their life.

Secondly, they may attribute success or failure to circumstances outside their control rather than their efforts. For example, they might attribute a job promotion to being in the right place at the right time rather than their hard work or competence.

Thirdly, individuals with an external locus may show less persistence in facing challenges, as they may believe that their efforts will not significantly influence the outcome. This belief can lead to decreased motivation and make them more likely to give up when faced with obstacles.

Finally, these individuals often have lower levels of self-esteem and may feel powerless or helpless in certain situations. Their belief that outcomes are primarily determined by external or outside forces can lead to anxiety or frustration, particularly when they desire control but feel it is beyond their reach.

Measurements of Locus Of Control

Locus of Control can be measured using several validated educational and psychological scales. The most common scale to measure locus is Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale, developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1966. Here is a link to learn more about it: Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale

Another widely used control scale is the Multidimensional Locus of Control Scale, introduced by Levenson in 1981. This scale subdivides the locus of control into three dimensions: internal, powerful others, and chance. You can find more information about it here: Multidimensional Locus of Control Scale.

Please note that these measurements indicate an individual’s overall tendency and may fluctuate over time and vary across different areas of life.

Internal versus external control

In comparing internal versus external control, or locus of power, the critical difference lies in attributing events. People with an internal or external locus of control believe their actions significantly impact outcomes.

They’re confident that they can influence their circumstances with effort and persistence. This belief often leads to higher motivation, greater self-discipline, and a proactive approach to problem-solving organizational behavior.

On the other hand, individuals with external control attribute outcomes to outside factors beyond their control, such as luck, fate, or other people’s decisions. As a result, they may feel helpless in changing their circumstances. This attitude can sometimes lead to passivity, lower motivation, or frustration when things don’t go as planned.

Neither perspective is inherently ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Each can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on individual differences and the context. Understanding one’s locus of control can provide valuable insights into behavior and offer a pathway to personal growth and improved well-being.

In some studies, men have a higher internal locus of control than women do [1], but in others, women have a higher internal locus of power [2]. According to other studies, as people age, their locus of control shifts inward [3].

Internal and external locus examples

An example of an internal locus of control concept is a professional athlete who believes their performance is directly related to their training and preparation. An example of an external locus of control is a lottery player who feels their chances of winning are purely down to luck and random chance.


Q.1 What is the internal locus of control in clinical psychology?

In psychology, an instance of internal locus of control is an employee believing that their promotion is a direct result of their hard work, dedication, and skill set. They attribute their success to personal effort and choices, fostering a sense of self-agency and empowerment.

Q.2 What is a locus of control in psychology?

In psychology, the locus of control is a concept that refers to an individual’s belief system regarding their abilities and behavior, the causes of their experiences, and, particularly, the extent to which they or external forces are responsible. It plays a critical role in how people understand their life events and influences their attitudes and behaviors.

Q.3 What is the locus of control activity?

The locus of control activity is an exercise used to identify an individual’s perceived control over their life events. It typically involves a questionnaire or scenarios where one has to attribute outcomes to internal or outer factors, thereby revealing their perceived locus of control: internal or external influences or all control relates to internal versus external control only.

Q.4 What is an example of locus of control with students?

In an educational context, a student with a solid internal and external locus of control might believe that their grades directly result from the time and effort they put into studying. Conversely, a student with an internal or external locus of control might attribute their degrees to the difficulty of the subject, the teacher’s instructional methods, or luck.

Q.5 What is an example of external locus control?

An example of an external locus of control is a person believing they didn’t get a job because of bad luck despite having prepared extensively for the interview. They attribute the positive outcome only to outer factors and believe their efforts had minimal influence.

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