This blog explores the Locus of Control scale, how to identify a client’s location on the scale, the implications and influences of Locus of Control from a hypnotherapy perspecticve, and how to help the client achieve a more balanced position, leading to a more engaged, empowered and emotionally responsible client. All of these scales and activities are suitable for self-use as well. I wonder where you are on the Locus of Control scale? Or where you might consider it more helpful for a therapist to be? Read on…
Overview of Locus of Control (LoC)
The ‘Locus of Control’ is a continuous scale which, at one end, has those who attribute success and failure to things they have control over (‘internal’), and, at the other end of the scale, those who consider their success or failure is due to forces outside of their influence (‘external’).
Julian Rotter, an American psychologist, developed the Locus of Control scale. He was influenced by Alfred Adler (personality theory), Clark Hull (drive theory / laws of behaviour), Burhuss Skinner (operant conditioning) and Edward Tolman (purposive behaviourism). Although prominent theories of his time included psychoanalysis (Breuer, Freud) and behaviourism (Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson, Skinner) he moved towards social learning theory, whereby new behaviours can be gained by observing and imitating others and the individual’s interaction with their environment.
Rotter developed the Locus of Control scale as a measure of two concepts: achievement motivation (internal LoC) and out-directedness (external LoC).
What’s YOUR Locus of Control? Find out now…
Complete this assessment for yourself before reading any further. You’ll need to take a note of your selections, so grab a pen and paper / device that you can write on. Once you have it, write the numbers 1 through 15… Then, for each of the following pairs of statements (from 1 to 15), select which statement is most true for you, either A or B, without taking more than a second or two to think about it… choose quickly! As you go through the statements, write your choice of A or B next to each number you have written.
Statement 1 – A
If I set a reasonable goal, I am likely to achieve it with hard work and commitment
Statement 1 – B
There is no point in setting goals; too much can happen that I cannot control
Statement 2 – A
The grades I earned as a student depended more on how much the teacher liked me than how much I studied
Statement 2 – B
My teachers treated me fairly and evaluated my performance objectively
Statement 3 – A
I decide what happens to me; I don’t believe in fate
Statement 3 – B
If something is meant to happen, it will, there is little I can do to change that
Statement 4 – A
To become a leader, I believe someone must be in the right place at the right time
Statement 4 – B
I believe that those who wish to be a leader will capitalise on the opportunities presented to them
Statement 5 – A
To be successful in my career takes hard work and effort
Statement 5 – B
Success in my career depends on who I know, not what I know or do
Statement 6 – A
Whether people like me, or not, is up to them
Statement 6 – B
Using good interpersonal skills can help get people to like me
Statement 7 – A
If I am prepared for an interview, I am more likely to do well
Statement 7 – B
There is no point preparing for an interview as they will ask whatever they want
Statement 8 – A
Normal people cannot do much to change the world, that is for the elite and powerful
Statement 8 – B
One person can make a difference and make an impact on government policy and decisions
Statement 9 – A
Luck does not play a large role in getting what I want out of life
Statement 9 – B
Life is a game of chance; what I get or what happens to me is mostly due to fate
Statement 10 – A
Disappointments in my life come from back luck
Statement 10 – B
Disappointments in my life are the result of the decisions I make
Statement 11 – A
How I treat people determines how they treat me
Statement 11 – B
People will either treat me well or not; no matter what I do
Statement 12 – A
I often feel that I have little control over my life and what happens to me
Statement 12 – B
I do not believe that luck or chance plays a large role in determining what happens to me in my life
Statement 13 – A
My rewards are directly related to what I accomplish
Statement 13 – B
Despite hard work and effort, what I accomplish will likely go unnoticed
Statement 14 – A
No matter how much people get involved, war and political unrest will still happen
Statement 14 – B
Political unrest and war can often happen where people don’t get involved or assert their political rights and views
Statement 15 – A
The things that happen in peoples’ lives are of their own doing
Statement 15 – B
Things just happen to people; they have little control over their fate
OK, you’re done!
So now, here’s how to figure out your locus of control, using the scoring key:
For statements 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11,13,15: A = Internal / B = External
For statements 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14: A = External / B = Internal
Work out the amount of internal vs. external statements you have chosen, if you have around 6-8 of each, your result is balanced. If you have more internal or more external answers, the closer to that end of the scale you are likely to be. For example; if you have 13 external and 2 internal, it may be likely that you have a more external Locus of Control.
Note: This assessment is for illustrative purposes; it has not been validated. It was inspired by Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale (1966).
Balanced-internal Locus of Control
Rotter suggests an internal locus of control relates to “the degree to which people expect an outcome of their behaviour is contingent on their own behaviour or personal characteristics”. A balanced-internal Locus of Control is considered to be the healthiest point on the scale (fairly close to the middle, but tipping slightly in favour of internal as opposed to external).
Key characteristics associated with a balanced Locus of Control include: Belief that the outcome of their actions are the result of their abilities; Belief that every action has its consequence; Consider that hard work leads to positive outcomes; Display greater resilience, high achievement motivation and low outer-directedness
People with a balanced-internal locus of control are generally more successful, as they will: Accept responsibility for their own actions and their consequences e.g. if they take a test and fail, they consider they did not study enough; Are inquisitive, and try to figure out why things turned out the way they did; Engage in activities that will improve their situation; Emphasise striving for achievement; Have a more participative management style; Take note of information that they can use to create positive outcomes in the future; Work hard to develop their knowledge, skills and abilities
Less anxious, less prone to depression and suicide
Less debilitating anxiety and less test anxiety
Less likely to feel like a victim of circumstance
More likely to actively try to improve their situation
More likely to observe factors they can use to create positive outcomes in the future
Sometimes events are random and out of someone’s control
More likely to come across as arrogant to others
Likely to be unstable or neurotic if the internal locus doesn’t realistically reflect their competence
Internal Locus of Control
People with a very (or overly) strong internal Locus of Control tend to be very achievement-oriented, and this can leave people around them feeling “trampled” or “overlooked”. Also, with a very strong internal locus of control, there is a tendency to want to control everything, and this can lead to difficulties in taking direction.
An overly-strong internal Locus of Control may result in an individual being unaware of the feelings of others and can appear arrogant or over-confident
Highly internal people can accept blame or responsibility for events or outcomes beyond their actual realm of control
External Locus of Control
Rotter considers external Locus of Control relates to “the degree to which persons expect the outcome is a result of chance, luck or fate, under the control of powerful others or is simply unpredictable”. Externals can be more passive, even fatalistic and accepting of things happening to them.
There can be times when having an external Locus of Control can be an advantage, particularly in situations where people need to be considerate and more easy-going
Are generally more stressed
Blame others for their life outcomes
Consider their own actions are as a result of external factors e.g. fate, luck, chance, higher power, influence of powerful others or simply unpredictable
Display low achievement motivation and high outer-directedness
Feel that things happen outside of their control
Feel they have less control over own fate
Outcomes of events are attributed to external circumstances
Locus of Control (LoC) – Influences and Implications
Clients: Internal clients will engage in therapy as a collaborative process; will engage in homework tasks and activities. External clients will blame others e.g. smoking cessation relapse = ‘It failed’ rather than internal accepting responsibility ‘I lapsed’; will expect therapy to be done ‘to them’; will expect the therapist to do their job, and are less likely to engage in homework tasks and activities.
Self-efficacy: Self-efficacy is the person’s belief that they can accomplish a particular task or activity. Higher external LoC + lower self-efficacy = higher illness-related psychological distress and more responsive to stress.
Healthcare: Health LoC relates to the extent to which individuals attribute their health to their own actions or to environmental circumstances and powerful external agent. An internal locus of control suggests that positive health results from one’s own doing, willpower or sustained efforts. An external locus of control is marked by belief in the influence of fate, powerful others, or supernatural occurrences upon one’s health e.g. An external LoC won’t screen for cancer when there is a family history of cancer as will think along the lines of; “Why screen for cancer, if I am destined to die anyway?”
Work: Internals earn more money for the same amount of time they work and earn more across a wide variety of employment situations, and are more desirable employees. Whereas an external does not seek to improve their self, or their skills set.
Gambling: For an internal, their gambling is more reserved, focused on safe and moderate wagers. Externals take more chances e.g. bet more on a card that hasn’t appeared recently, as consider it more likely to appear.
Children: Children in supportive families with consistent discipline, tend to develop internal LoC; children who learn the connection between action and consequences have a more internal LoC; men and women with a more internal LoC in childhood (measured at age 10) had healthier behaviours, including reduced risk of obesity, overweight, poor-self-rated health or psychological distress at age 30; having a stronger sense of control over one’s own life in childhood seems to be a protective factor for some aspects of health in adult life; internal children tend to do better in school; children whose parents are external LoC tend to be more external (Rotter, social learning theory)
Assessment of Locus of Control
Formal assessment is often with the use of scales (coded questionnaires). Informal assessment focuses on the ongoing and active assessment of the client’s language.
Standard Locus of Control scale (see start of blog)
Weight Locus of Control scale (Saltzer 1982), Dieting Beliefs Scale (Stotland and Zuroff 1990)
Mental health assessment:
Mental health locus of control scale (Wood and Letak 1982)
Depression Locus of Control Scale (Whiteman, Despond and Price 1987)
Cancer Locus of Control Scale (Pruyn et al 1988)
Assessment during intake (client consultation) of client’s language when describing themselves and their issues.
How to Re-balance Locus of Control
Although an internal locus of control will generally enable and enhance therapeutic change, many clients will prefer to start working on their issues at the start of the therapy process, rather than possibly having several sessions to re-balance their locus of control first. However, re-balancing work, where indicated, can be started in the first session, as part of the stabilisation process, and can continue all the way through the therapy. As a hypnotherapist, re-balancing can include:
Locus of Control alert interventions: Affirmations, such as “I can take responsibility”; Assertiveness training; Cognitive tasks, exploring situations and identifying the choices e.g. if on a plane for 12 hours, can choose how to respond to situation emotionally; Exploring areas of control e.g. can choose when to exercise; Homework tasks and activities; Pay attention to self-talk (e.g. “I don’t have a choice” reframe it to “I may not like the choices…”); Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) for irrational beliefs; Stress management.
Locus of Control hypnotherapy interventions: Anxiety diminishing approaches; Direct / indirect suggestion; Ego strengthening (direct, indirect, metaphorical); Future pacing; Metaphors; Performance enhancement.
Developing Emotional Responsibility
The ‘I have choices’ exercise
Where you (or a client) feel you have little choice about your responses, the following ‘I have choices’ set of affirmations can be helpful in developing greater emotional responsibility. Either all of the relevant affirmations can be given to the client, for them to rotate through (e.g. say one 10 times each day and then move to the next), or two of three of the most relevant can be selected.
Use the phrase “It is my choice to choose…” together with:
It is my choice how I look at things
It is my choice how I want to feel
It is my choice how much importance I attach to what happens
It is my choice what I compare myself or things to
It is my choice what I expect of myself, others and life
It is my choice what I imagine will happen next
It is my choice what I focus on
It is my choice what meaning I attach to what happens
It is my choice what I remember about the past
It is my choice what I spend my time thinking about
Use the phrase “It is my choice to be in control…” together with:
I am not disturbed by others, I disturb myself
I am not upset by others, I upset myself
I am responsible for how I feel, it is not the responsibility of others
It is my job to make me feel better, not anyone else’s job
My thoughts cause my feelings, they are not caused by others
What others say or do, is up to them
The ‘Notice Control’ Exercise
Another exercise that helps to show the individual that they are able to be in control is to imagine you are locked in a room (or in another situation that you perceive is out of your control). Find three aspects where you DO have control, e.g. what you look at; what you do with your body; what you feel (emotions).
The ‘What Can I do to Change?’ Exercise
This gives the client an opportunity to explore key areas of their life. Ask them to consider their strengths, strategies and success from different aspects.
Consider: What are my strengths? (Resources, abilities, motivations); What are my strategies? (How can I use my strengths?); What will success be? (How can I tell I have succeeded?)
For: Physical (e.g. health and fitness); Mental (e.g. stress management); Emotional (e.g. anxiety management); Social (e.g. work relationships)
Research and Locus of Control
Happiness: Internals are happier: A study 1 of 171 university students found a relationship between happiness and internality (Pannells & Claxton 2008)
Academic success: Internals do better at school and have more academic success, particularly adolescents (Findley & Cooper 1983)
Gratification: Internals are more likely to be able to delay gratification e.g. reject a small immediate reward for a later possibly larger reward (Nowicki & Rowntree 1971)
Task achievement: Internals are more confident that they will achieve tasks (Battle & Rotter 1963)
Impulsivity: Internals are less impulsive (Nowicki & Rowntree 1971)
Failure: Internals forget failure more quickly (Davis & Davis 1972)
Trauma / life changes: Internals respond more constructively (Ross & Miller 2009)
Work ethic: Internals are more driving and hardworking (Laptosky 2002)
Communication: Internals have better communication skills, particularly physicians! (Libert et al 2007)
Social situations: Internals seek to influence and control social situations (McCullough et al. 1994)
Sex: Internals are more likely to employ cautious sexual behaviours, such as consistent use of contraceptives (Visher 1986)
Work reliability: Internals tend to be more efficient and more reliable (Judge 2009)
Work reward: Internals are more likely to be driven by intrinsic reward (Keller & Blomann 2008)
Physical health: Internality directly correlates to better physical health (Gale, Batty & Deary 2008)
Stress: Internals have a better physical response to stress (Pruessner et al. 2005)
References & Further Reading
Frantz, R. S. (1980). Internal-external locus of control and labor market performance: Empirical evidence using longitudinal survey data. Psychology: A Quarterly Journal of Human Behavior. 17, 23–29.
Gale, C.R., Batty, G.D., and Deary, I.J. (2008). Locus of control at age 10 year and health outcomes and behaviours at age 30 years: the British Cohort Study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(4), 397-403.
Rotter, J.B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80.
Rotter J.B. (1990). Internal Versus External Control of Reinforcement: A Case History of a Variable. American Psychologist. April 1990, 490-493.
Schultz, D.P., and Schultz, S.E. (2005). Theories of Personality (8th ed.). Wadsworth: Thomson.
We hope this blog on Locus of Control has been helpful, and if you have any questions relating to this blog, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks