locus of control (A complete guide)

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In this article we will discuss what the Locus of Control is and how it impacts our lives. 

We will also discuss the various assumptions about this theory, the two kinds of locus of control and how it can impact one’s life and mental well being. 

What Is the Locus of Control? 

Locus of control refers to the belief about whether the outcomes of our behaviour is a result of what we do or are a result of forces that are out of our personal control, as explained by Philip Zimbardo in his book Psychology and Life. 

The concept of locus of control has been heavily debated but it is grounded by the suggestion of Julian Rotter our behaviour was controlled by rewards and punishments and these consequences determined our beliefs about our locus of control.

Rotter also published a scale designed to measure and assess external and internal locus of control and is based on a forced choice between two choices that the participants must choose- each alternative is indicative of an internal or external locus of control beliefs. 

What are the types of Locus of Control?

There are two types of locus of control: internal and external- neither one is “good” or “bad” and oftentimes require a moderate sense of both internal and external locus of control to develop a sense of well being. 

Internal Locus of Control 

A person with an internal locus of control most likely sees their future as being in their own hands. 

As a result they might engage in various activities to improve their skills, knowledge, and also work hard to improve their own situation. They are more likely to be motivated and driven if their sense of self is healthy. 

However, on the flip side if a person has an extreme internal locus of control coupled with a negative evaluation of themselves, they might resort to self blame about their own conditions, be extremely critical of their own skills and knowledge if their circumstances are challenging. 

Having a moderate internal locus of control can help people be able to accept situations that they can’t control or influence, and to manage them effectively when they arise.

External Locus of Control

If a person has an external locus of control, they likely believe that what happens to them is the result of luck or fate, or is determined by people in authority. 

They might tend to give up on life, feel hopeless, and discouraged because they feel like they have no power to change their circumstances. They might also shun from taking responsibility for their own behaviors, feelings, and thoughts which might negatively impact their own lives. 

While on the flip side, it might also be possible that a person who has  a healthy sense of self and an external locus of control can eventually learn to experience their life as it is instead of being anxious and control everything that makes them anxious. 

They might also be able to let go of certain things that they do not have control over such as death and loss and avoid self-blame provided they have a healthy balance with their external locus of control.

It is quite unlikely that people have a wholly internal or external locus of control, most people fall somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum and may differ according to settings. 

Some people even develop a healthier locus of control, sometimes even becoming more internally focused as they grow older and learn that they have much power over their own lives. 

How does Locus of Control Impact one’s life?

Researchers have found that people with an internal locus of control tend to be better off in terms of their well-being. They tend to be more motivated, driven, and tend to engage with their lives more proactively. 

However, this does not mean that an external locus of control is a bad thing. It all depends on context. In some situations, having an external locus of control can be a good thing—especially when the citation is a threat to self-esteem or is outside of a person’s control.

For example, if a person experiences loss in their family- someone with an extremely internal locus of control might think that it is their fault that death has occured. However, someone with an external sense of control might consider it outside of their control- which it genuinely is- and might not be as distressed.

Having a healthy balance of both an internal and external locus of control can be better for you own wellbeing as opposed to grounding your beliefs on either extremes. 

What are the Applications of Locus of Control?

The concept of the internal locus of control is often used synonymously with self control and self discipline.

Even though the external and internal locus of control are very different from one another, one locus of control is not superior to another. These are simply different ways of how we perceive the world around us.

The concept of Locus of control can be applied in various settings. They can be used in helping children learn about their perspectives of the world, and help them develop a sense of healthy autonomy and control over themselves and the world around them.

In adolescence and young adults, the locus of control concept can help them navigate identity formation and psychosocial development in the face of the larger world and the authority figures and norms that suppress their individuality. 

In the workplace, the concept can be used to help employees develop a healthier sense of teamwork, develop motivation, set goals, and direction to their careers. It can also help them cope with challenges in the workplace such as pace, decision making, and various career changes. 

Over all, the concept of the locus of control can be used to psychoeducate client in therapy and counseling- especially those who seem to have a loac of control over themselves, their lives, their emotions causing hopelessness and distress- the concept can be used to help them understand the concept of choice, boundaries, and healthy sense regulation. 

Do You Have an External or Internal Locus of Control?

If you want to figure out which locus of control you have, take a look at the following statements. 

Outlook 1 

  • I frequently feel that I have little control over my life
  • People never get what they deserve
  • So many things in life can happen that are outside of my control
  • Life is full of possibilities
  • People have little impact over the larger events that take place in the world

Outlook 2 

  • If you set your mind to something, then you can accomplish anything. 
  • There is no such thing as destiny or predetermination. 
  • If you concentrate hard and are prepared, then you’ll do well on your exams.
  • Karma has little to do with progress. Progress is based on commitment and effectiveness.
  • People tend to get what they deserve in life.

If your view on life and the events and circumstances of your life mirror that of the beliefs in outlook 1, you have an external locus of control. 

However, if your views are similar to outlook2, you have a more internal locus of control. 


In this article we have discussed what the Locus of Control is and how it impacts our lives. 

We also discussed the various assumptions about this theory, the two kinds of locus of control and how it can impact one’s life and mental well being. 


Cherry.K. Locus of Control and Your Life. Verywellmind. Retrieved on 26th November 2021.

Locus of Control. Are You in Charge of Your Destiny? Mindtools. Retrieved on 26th November 2021.

Lopez, SJ. The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology. New York: John Wiley & Sons; 2011.

FAQs on the locus of control:

Can I have both types of locus of control?

It is possible to view different situations through the lens of a different locus of control. By doing so, you likely take things on a case by case basis. Just because you’re predisposed toward one locus of control does not mean that you’re incapable of viewing certain events through a different locus of control.

What can I control?

What you can control in your own life is yourself- your thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. 

This might include how you perform at work or school, how you show up to your relationships with other people and how you show up to volunteer work.

Focusing on what you can control will help you understand what you have the power to change and what is beyond your control. 

What is an example of a locus of control?

An example about locus control is the job application process:

If you leave it up to fate to get a call for an interview, you believe in an external locus of control, but if you trust in your abilities and take an initiative to apply at various places, you have a strong internal locus of control.

Is locus of control a personality trait?

Locus of control was initially described as a personality trait referring to a person’s stable beliefs of personal efficacy but now it is understood as the internal beliefs held by a person about how much control they have over their lies, the world around them and other people.

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