Locus of control is a personality style and orientation characterized either by the belief that individuals can control events by their own efforts (internal locus of control) or that their future is determined by forces outside their control (external locus of control).
If individuals with an internal locus of control performs poorly on a test, they are likely to blame either their own lack of ability or poor preparation for the test. By comparison, individuals with an external locus of control will tend to explain a low grade by saying that the test was hard or that the teacher graded the tests unfairly.
The concept of locus of control was developed by psychologist Julian Rotter (1916–2014), who devised the Internal-External Locus of Control Scale to assess personality. Studies have found that this test is a valid predictor of the behaviors associated with locus of control.
Tests prove that links exist between locus of control and behavior in many areas of life. People with an internal locus of control take responsibility for their actions, are not easily influenced by the opinions of others, and usually do better when they work at their own pace. By comparison, people with an external locus of control tend to blame outside circumstances for their mistakes and credit their successes to luck, rather than to their own efforts. They are readily influenced by the opinions of others and especially likely to pay attention to the status of an opinionholder. Conversely, people with an internal locus of control pay more attention to the content of the opinion than the status of the person who holds it.
Some researchers have claimed that internals tend to be more intelligent and success-oriented than externals. In the elementary grades, children with an internal locus of control often earn higher grades; however, by college this correlation is not clear. There is also a strong relationship between a child's locus of control and the child’ ability to delay gratification. By middle childhood, children with an internal locus of control can often delay gratification; for example, save one marshmallow now to earn two later. Children with an external locus of control are unlikely to make an effort to exert self-control in the present to gain something in the future. Possibly these children doubt their ability to influence events in the future, so resisting gratification seems pointless.
Although people can be classified comparatively as internals or externals, human development normally proceeds in the direction of an internal locus of control. As children grow older, they feel increasingly competent to control events in their lives. Consequently, they move from being externally focused to a more internal locus that represents increased responsibility and agency.
See also Motivational theories; Personality ; Personality inventory ; Rotter, Julian B.
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