Locus of Control

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Locus of Control is a psychological phenomenon that was first identified in the mid-1900s by the American psychologist Julian Rotter. Locus of Control describes the degree to which an individual believes his or her actions cause various outcomes. This article will provide a brief historical summary of the definition of Locus of Control, an outline of measures used to quantify the degree to which a particular individual is characterized by an internal or external Locus of Control, its applications in formal and informal learning environments, and possible relationships between Locus of Control and several other motivational constructs.



Several scales have been developed to evaluate an individual's Locus of Control, determining the degree to which he or she internalizes responsibility for outcomes. The original scale, Rotter's I/E Scale was proposed at the time of the first definition of Locus of Control and consists of 23 forced-choice questions. A scale roughly based on Rotter's original questionnaire can be found here.

Since Rotter's seminal work, many researchers have sought to sharpen his measurement techniques. In particular, subsequent scales have employed Likert-scale techniques, encouraging participants to rate their self-perceptions instead of requiring a dichotomous choice as in Rotter's I/E Scale. Most notably, Duttweiler (1984) and Levenson (1974) each developed Locus of Control Scales that are commonly used in Locus of Control research.

Common scales for measuring Locus of Control in educational contexts include:

  • Rotter I/E Scale (1966)
  • Reid & Ware (1974)
  • Levenson (1974)
  • Nowicki-Strickland (1973) locus of control scale for children
  • Duttweiler (1984) Internal Control Index (ICI)
  • Lefcort Multidimensional-Multiattributional Causality Scales (MMCS) (1981)

Separate scales have been developed to measure Locus of Control in other domains such as health psychology through the use of specific domain-related questions and jargon.

Educational Applications

Control and Incidental Course Knowledge

Control and Self-Regulation Strategies

In a study of 397 undergraduates, Shell & Husman (2008) obtained multiple motivational measures including control (labeled as either “internal” or “external”), goal orientation, and self-regulation. In this study, “control” was a comprehensive construct that included self-efficacy and expectancy for success measures in addition to typical locus of control questions.

Shell & Husman analyzed the self-regulation and goal orientation participant self-reported data as a function of students’ control data and found three characteristic patterns: 1. High control correlated with high self-regulated learning and low Control correlated with low Self-Regulated learning strategies 2. Learned helplessness 3. High control without self-regulation strategies

Other Applications

  • Health psychology
  • Sports psychology

Relationships to Other Motivational Constructs

  • Learned Helplessness
  • Expectancy Value Theory
  • Attribution Theory
  • Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation


  • Dollinger, S. J. (2000). Locus of control and incidental learning: An application to college student success. College Student Journal. 34(4), 537-540.
  • Furnham, A., & Steele, H. (1993). Measuring locus of control: A critique of general, children's health- and work-related locus of control questionnaires. British Journal of Psychology. 84(4), 443-479.
  • Goodman, F. H. & Walters, L. K. (1987). Convergent Validity of Five Locus of Control Scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement. (47), 743-747.
  • Schunk, D. H., Pintrich, P. R., & Meece, J. L. (2008)Motivation in Education: Theory, Research, and Applications (Third Edition). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall.
  • Shell, D. F., & Husman, J. (2008). Control, motivation, affect, and strategic self-regulation in the college classroom: A multidimensional phenomenon. Journal of Educational Psychology. 100(2), 443-459.