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Measuring Locus of Control: Introducing the 5th Edition of the Locus of Control Inventory

13 July 2016

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    Measuring Locus of Control: Introducing the 5th Edition of the Locus of  Control Inventory
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Measuring Locus of Control: Introducing the 5 th Edition of the Locus of Control Inventory

Understanding how people behave and why they behave as they do has fascinated scientists for centuries. We all know someone who seems to be the life of the party, or someone that is willing to try anything, or even someone who is always nice to everybody. We might refer to these people as scoring high on personality traits, such as Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Agreeableness. However, pick up any classic text on personality and we can find many different theories about WHY people behave the way they do. Maybe people are born with certain personalities, perhaps people have learnt from their environment how to behave in certain situations, or possibly there are unconscious forces that make us do the things that we do (Pervin & John, 2001). There is no easy answer to why people behave in predictable ways. One theory that explains human behaviour and that has gained much research attention is that of locus of control. Locus of control helps to explain why some people believe that they can control what happens to them while other people believe that fate, luck, or chance is responsible for what happens to them.

Reinforcement, expectations, and value

Locus of control was developed by Julian Rotter and is based on his social learning theory. According to Rotter (1954) people have different options to choose from when deciding how to behave in certain situations. For example, a student may have to choose between studying and not studying when having to write an exam. Behavioural potential determines which behaviour is enacted. Rotter created a mathematical formulation where behavioural potential is a function of the situation, expectancies, reinforcement, and reinforcement value (Lefcourt, 1976). Expectation is the most important aspect of locus of control. Rotter (1966) defined expectation as a subjective belief that a particular behaviour will lead to a specific outcome. He distinguished between specific expectations and generalised expectations, both of which play a role in determining behaviour (Rotter, 1954, 1966). Generalised expectancies are general expectations of what will happen based on many different types of situation expectancies while specific expectancies are expectancies related to specific situations. Generalised expectations are particularly important when a person experiences a novel situation that shares characteristics that are similar to previously encountered situations (Rotter, 1954). Locus of control is a problem solving generalised expectancy and therefore tends to operate over a range of situations (Rotter, 1975; Wang et al., 2010).

Locus of control

Rotter (1990, p. 56) defined Locus of Control as “the degree to which persons expect that reinforcement or an outcome of their behavior is contingent on their own behavior or personal characteristics versus the degree to which persons expect that the reinforcement or outcome is a function of chance, luck, or fate, is under the control of powerful others, or is simply unpredictable”. Thus, according to Rotter (1966) people differ on a continuum of internal beliefs and external beliefs. People who have an internal belief tend to believe that an outcome depends on their own behaviour. Those who have an external belief tend to believe the opposite. But how do these beliefs influence behaviour? Rotter (1966, p. 5) wrote that “if a person perceives a reinforcement as contingent upon his own behavior, then the occurrence of either a positive or negative reinforcement will strengthen or weaken potential for that behaviour to recur in the same or similar situation”. It follows that when a person does not perceive a reinforcement as contingent on his/her behaviour that behaviour is less likely to be modified.

Is locus of control important?

Much research has been done on the relationship between locus of control and work-related outcomes. There is evidence that locus of control is related to work performance, work-place relationships, work-related attitude, turnover, satisfaction (Wang, Bowling, & Eschleman, 2010), positive task experiences, and work-place motivation (Ng, Sorenson, & Eby, 2006). For example, Judge and Bono (2001) found that Internal locus of control had a positive relationship with job satisfaction and with job performance. Blegen (1993) also found that there is a positive correlation between locus of control and job satisfaction. In relation to overall life satisfaction, DeNeve and Cooper (1998) found that External locus of control was negatively related to subjective well-being. Research also suggests that people who score higher on External locus of control tend to experience more negative emotions (Presson & Benassi, 1996). In relation to academic performance, there is evidence that students who score higher on Internal locus of control tend to perform better in their studies (Findley & Cooper, 1983). Research that we have done at JvR has shown the relationship of locus of control to safety outcomes in high-risk environments.

Measuring locus of control

There are many different instruments that can be used to measure locus of control. Some of them measure locus of control as a dichotomy (i.e., high in one means low in the other), whereas others split locus of control into two separate scales for internal locus of control and external locus of control (Furnham & Steele, 1993) or even three scales consisting of internal locus of control, chance, and powerful others (Levenson, 1973). One instrument that was developed specifically for the South African context is the Locus of Control Inventory (Schepers, 2013). It consists of three scales: Autonomy, Internal locus of control, and External locus of control. Autonomy and Internal locus of control are closely related constructs. Autonomy is defined as “the tendency to attempt to master or be effective in the environment, to impose one’s wishes and designs on it” (Wolman, 1973, p. 37).

The 5th edition of the Locus of Control Inventory

The 4th edition of the Locus of Control Inventory has received a wealth of psychometric support and has been used for many years. In 2016, JvR Psychometrics initiated the development of the 5 th edition of the Locus of Control Inventory. The 5 th edition of the Locus of Control Inventory was updated to have only 15 items per scale and was re-normed on a more recent working adult sample group. The norm group consists of 1075 respondents. The 45 items of the 5 th edition were chosen from the 4 th edition of the instrument. Items that did not measure their respective construct well and/or that were not working equally well across gender and/or ethnicity were removed. The psychometric properties of the 5 th edition of the Schepers Locus of Control Inventory was investigated on two separate sample groups. The reliability of the scale scores were above .75 for both sample groups indicating satisfactory scale reliability. Factor analysis found satisfactory fit to three factors in both sample groups. Lastly, item response theory (Rasch) was used to investigate the fit of each item and the construct validity of the instrument. Few items demonstrated unsatisfactory fit further supporting the construct validity of the instrument. As a whole the analyses demonstrated that the 5th edition of the Locus of Control Inventory (Schepers, 2016) is a promising measure of Locus of Control for the South African context.


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