Psychological Locus of Control Series: Part 1 — Where is my power situated?

I love the construct Locus of Control. Firstly because it has that cool Latin launching pad that makes it sound so much more important, and secondly because it is so fundamental to human behaviour yet we are hardly aware that it exists. Just think about it for a second, what is my Locus of control? That I even have a Locus of control is a surprising idea. My control is located differently to someone else’s. Not physically located, but psychologically. Let me try that again slowly. The psychological control that I believe I have over my life, is different to the people around me. In more bald terms, for some people the control that they believe they have over their life is located Externally. Outside of themselves. In other words they believe that their control is limited, the world happens to them. Instead of being the architects of their lives, they are relentlessly pushed around by forces outside of their control. The opposite is where the locus is located Internally. Here I have power. I make things happen. If I do badly, I messed up, if I do well, it’s because of me. My prospects in the world and the decisions I make emerge from one place only. Me.

The broad polarities of control are Internal vs. External, but of course, people are complicated so there is everything in between. We can be located at the edges, in the middle, bits of both, and more complicated is that we have multiple Loci of control. Someone can be Internal at work, but External as a parent. At work, they may believe that the effort they put in connects to the rewards they get out. As a parent, they believe that they have no control, that children do their thing and that there is almost nothing they can do to influence them.

A look at the voluminous literature on Locus of control is revealing. Literally thousands of articles (Julian Rotter, the originator of the construct, is the 64th most cited psychologist of all time). Firstly there is a strong implicit finding that having an Internal Locus is better than having an External Locus. Mostly because having agency is seen as psychologically healthy. Believing in oneself is better than believing that one is powerless. Locus of Control has been researched in connection with countless other variables, Locus of control and Marriage Success, Locus of Control and Religion, Locus of Control and Traffic accidents, Locus of Control and Narcissism, Locus of Control and Altruism…it goes on and on. Since one of the services we offer is helping companies reduce the risk of bad hires, we were interested in Locus of control and Job Performance. Lots of studies and at least two meta-analyses addressed this. The conclusion, an Internal Locus of Control appears to be as important as Conscientiousness in determining Job Performance. And Conscientiousness is the highest ranking dispositional variable that has been found. (Intelligence is the highest ranking variable across all categories).

I extracted the records of about 1500 people who had been assessed through our system in the last 6 months. Not the most definitive data, and not the most definitive tool used, but interesting nevertheless, even in terms of the shape of the distribution curve, with about 50% of people occupying the middle ground of 4 or 5:

The mean score is 4.19 — leaning towards Internal. Only a smidgen, about 1%, scored at the high end of External. Men were slightly less (but statistically significantly) Internal than Women. In general, people tended towards increasingly Internal as they aged, but this shifted after age 50 (possibly because with more health problems the reality that you cannot control everything became more apparent). I then looked at Education levels and Locus. Here is what I found:

Those with an External Locus are less likely to pursue a tertiary education. If they do study, they appear more likely to terminate after their degree rather than continue with a Post-Graduate qualification. Having an Internal LoC was significantly predictive of obtaining a Post Graduate degree.

There is no doubt Locus of Control is a profound construct and a fascinating variable. It is also largely an invisible one, hard to see in others, yet very predictive of how people see the world and how they translate the results of their actions as being mostly due to themselves (Internal) or due to chance and environmental factors (External).

Psychometrics -We measure invisible constructs to make recruitment practices scientific, our flagship system Rolefit provides rich and meaningful organisational data at your fingertips Here is a link to the survey where you can check your own Locus https://www.rolefit.com/survey?SocSurv311

Author: Dr Hilton Rudnick