2 minute read

Locus of Control

A personality orientation characterized either by the belief that one can control events by one's own efforts (internal locus of control) or that the future is determined by forces outside one's control (external locus of control).

If a person with an internal locus of control does badly on a test, she is likely to blame either her own lack of ability or preparation for the test. By comparison, a person with an external locus of control will tend to explain a low grade by saying that the test was too hard or that the teacher graded unfairly. The concept of locus of control was developed by psychologist Julian Rotter, who devised the Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (I-E) to assess this dimension of personality. Studies have found that this test is a valid predictor of behavior typically associated with locus of control.

Links have been found between locus of control and behavior patterns in a number of different areas. People with an internal locus of control are inclined to take responsibility for their actions, are not easily influenced by the opinions of others, and tend to do better at tasks when they can 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 are more likely to pay attention to the status of the opinion-holder, while people with an internal locus of control pay more attention to the content of the opinion regardless of who holds it. Some researchers have claimed that "internals" tend to be more intelligent and more success-oriented than "externals." In the elementary grades, children with an internal locus of control have been found to earn higher grades, although there are conflicting reports about whether there is a relationship between college grades and locus of control. There is also a relationship between a child's locus of control and his or her ability to delay gratification (to forgo an immediate pleasure or desire in order to be rewarded with a more substantial one later). In middle childhood, children with an internal locus of control are relatively successful in the delay of gratification, while children with an external locus of control are likely to make less of an effort to exert self-control in the present because they doubt their ability to influence events in the future.

Although people can be classified comparatively as "internals" or "externals," chronological development within each individual generally proceeds in the direction of an internal locus control. As infants and children grow older they feel increasingly competent to control events in their lives. Consequently, they move from being more externally focused to a more internal locus.

Further Reading

Bem, Allen P. Personality Theories. Boston: Allyn and Bacon,


Burger, Jerry M. Personality. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1993.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Ibn Bajjah (Abu-Bakr Muhammad ibn-Yahya ibn-al-Saʼigh, c.1106–38) Biography to Perception: cultural differences