What is… locus of control

Mental Health @ Home Insights into psychology: locus of control

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychology-related terms.  This week’s term: locus of control

Locus of control refers to who/what we hold responsible for what happens in our lives.  This concept was first identified by psychologist Julian B. Rotter in 1954.   With an internal locus of control, we believe that we are responsible for what happens in our lives.  With an external locus of control, we believe that external factors, include other people and environmental factors, are responsible.  Locus of control isn’t a static thing; while we may naturally lean towards internal or external, we can shift along a continuum from internal to external based on a number of different factors.

The concept of locus of control is primarily future-oriented, as we predict what we will and will not be able to control.  Attribution theory is related, but is focused on events that have occurred in the past.

Having an external locus of control is associated with developing depression, and can go along with a sense of powerlessness.  People with a more internal locus of control may find it more easy to motivate themselves since they believe they can influence their outcomes.  An internal locus of control may be more associated with taking preventative health strategies.  Research findings have been mixed with regards to locus of control and things like exercise, alcoholism, and age and gender correlations.

Since the concept of locus of control was originally developed, new layers have been added.  Ability and effort are both internal factors, but ability is relatively stable while effort is unstable over time.  Task difficulty and luck are external, but task difficulty is stable and luck is unstable.

The most widely used psychological measurement scale is Rotter’s locus of control scale; the link connects to a shortened version of the test that you can do online.  The short version gives you a score from 0-13, with 0 being fully internal to 13 being fully external.  I scored a 10, although there were a few questions that it was hard to pick an answer because I just wanted to say neither of the above.

A more general concept is sphere of control/influence.  It’s a way of looking at what you have control over, and what you don’t.  I suspect a lot of us hold ourselves responsible for many things that are outside of our control.  A great deal of mental energy can end up being spent on things we realistically have no power over.

A bit of a twist on that idea is when we think our internal experiences are within another person’s sphere of control.  This can happen with emotions, along the lines of “you made me feel _____.”

I think I’ve developed a more external locus of control as I’ve gotten older.  It’s less about age and more about circumstances.  When I was younger, for the most part outcomes were fairly consistent with what I was putting in.  Then mental illness happened.  I’ve tended to assume a primarily biological cause, which would fall under internal locus of control.  The effects of stigma, though, had very tangible effects on my life, and that was very much out of my control.  It seems like on a fairly regular basis things happen to demonstrate that I don’t have control.  I suppose maintaining an external locus of control is useful is in the sense that I’m not engaging in self-blame, but it also contributes to a sense of powerlessness.

Where does your locus of control tend to fall on the spectrum?

 

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locus_of_control

You can find the rest of my What Is series here.

 

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17 thoughts on “What is… locus of control

  1. BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com says:

    I believe to think I fall under the external control more so now, than when I was younger.
    When I was younger, my whole being was out of control, constant chaos, and it created a lot of self-blame and additional pressures on me.
    As I’ve aged, I have grown to accept things that I have no control over much better.

    Intriguing post today.

  2. Melanie B Cee says:

    It’s been internal for some time now. It’s shifting, however, back to the external option. I don’t like that at all because when it was external, I was in a really bad and dark place and I could not see anyway to free myself from that perspective. I did blame a lot of other people and situations for my own problems. When I was able to shift to the internal mode, things improved dramatically and I saw possibility instead of impossibility. I had control of my own outcomes to decisions and so forth. Control, for me, is vital. It’s part of the parting gift my childhood trauma gave to me, along with hyper vigilance and PTSD. I’m watching the shift occurring and I’m feeling those old feelings of hopelessness, depression and an inability to DO anything about it because I just see more problems and more problems. Do you know, from your experiences as a therapist, if they have medications or pro-active therapies that one can do to stay that shift?

    • ashleyleia says:

      Acceptance and commitment therapy is an interesting approach. It talks a lot about basing your actions on what keeps you moving in the direction of your identified values rather than getting caught up in all the problems that can get in the way.

  3. Meg says:

    Yeah, I have a weird thought on this. If you look at the schizophrenia quiz at psych central: https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/schizophrenia-test/ the first question is: “I believe that others control what I think or feel.” And I’m thinking, uh, they might not CONTROL it, but aren’t we all heavily influenced by what goes on around us, in that we think and have emotional reactions to it all the time? We don’t live in a vacuum. (Either way, every time I take the quiz, it tells me, “Oh yeah. You’re schizophrenic as all get-out.) I’m too braindead right now to take the locus of control quiz, but I’ve taken it in the past, and I’m split straight down the middle, 50/50. Just like with every letter of the Meyers Briggs (except for extreme introversion). I’m an I (for introvert) and then all the other six letters.

    Very interesting blog post!

    • ashleyleia says:

      Hmm, I guess the spam filter didn’t like the PsychCentral link. The idea of an online test yourself quiz for schizophrenia is rather bizarre, and that question is certainly too vague to differentiate normal from delusions of control.

  4. Saro (Elmarie) says:

    I have been trying to remember this term for a long time. I believe in internal locus. It bring more lasting peace. To be dependent on external locus peace or happiness is but for a moment and you have to go search for something else to make you happy. Thanks for the post.

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