Internal Locus Of Control: Definition And Research

Locus of control is what an individual believes causes his or her experiences, and the factors to which that person attributes their successes or failures.  Rotter (1966) first defined locus of control as a person’s perception of his or her control over events and outcomes in their environment.

If a person has an internal locus of control, that person attributes success to his or her own efforts and abilities.  

A person with an external locus of control, alternatively, attributes his or her success to luck or fate or other factors outside of his or her control. 

Internal locus of control can also be called “agency”.  Overall, it incorporates the ability to take action, be effective, influence your own life, and assume responsibility for your behaviors. 

Individuals with a high internal locus of control believe that their interactions with their environment will produce predictable results (Li, Lepp, & Barkley, 2015).  In fact, research shows that internal locus of control predicts better health outcomes, work satisfaction, and academic success. 

Internal locus of control has been found to be helpful in maintaining healthy lifestyles, for example.  An internal health locus of control involves one’s belief in one’s ability to impact their own health in a positive way.  For example, people with higher levels of the internal locus of control have been shown to engage in healthier lifestyles without needing outside support, and have lower rates of obesity (Neymotin & Nemzer, 2014) as well as lower BMI (Williams, Grow, Freedman, Ryan, & Deci, 1996). 

Research on individuals who attempt to overcome health-damaging behaviors has also shown the benefits of internal locus of control (Coan, 1973; James et al., 1965; Mlott and Mlott, 1975; Naditch, 1975; Pryer and Distefano, 1977; Williams, 1967).  

Additionally, research supports internal locus of control is related to organizational satisfaction (Lester and Genz, 1978; Organ and Greene, 1974; and Petersen, 1985). People with internal locus of control are more inclined to take action and performer at higher levels.  Moreover, people who believe that they control whether or not to leave an organization will re-evaluate themselves within their organization, and bring it in line with their attitude and ehavior (Salancik and Pfeffer, 1978). 

Internal locus of control is also related to academic performance and classroom behavior.  Having an internal locus of control is correlated to academic success such as faster rates of learning higher grades (Keith et al., 1986).   Studies conducted with college students indicate that students with an internal locus of control adjust to college life with more ease than those with an external locus of control (Martin & Dixon, 1994).  Additionally, those students with an internal locus of control evidence above average college course grades (Kirkpatrick et al., 2008).  An internal locus of control generally predicts greater academic success overall (Carden, Bryant, & Moss, 2004; Keith et al., 1986).

Having an internal locus of control is generally a positive thing.  Those who report an internal locus of control are more likely to be in better health, show lower levels of psychological stress, and have greater confidence in their ability to influence outcomes in their lives.


Carden, R., Bryant, C., & Moss, R. (2004). Locus of control, test anxiety, academic procrastination, and achievement among college students. Psychological Reports, 95, 581-582. 

Coan, R.(1973). Personality variables associated with cigarette smoking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 26, 86-104.

James, W., Woodruff, A., &Werner, W. (1965). Effect of internal and external control upon changes in smoking behavior. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 29(2), 184-186.

Keith, T. Z., Pottebaum, S. M., & Eberhardt, S. (1986). Effects of self-concept and locus of control on academic achievement: A large-sample path analysis. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 4, 61-72.

Kirkpatrick, M.A., Stant, K., Downes, S., & Gaither, L. (2008). Perceived Locus of Control and Academic Performance: Broadening the Construct's Applicability. Journal of College Student Development 49(5), 486-496.

Lester, D. & Genz, J. (1978).  Internal-external locus of control, experience as a police officer, and job satisfaction in municipal police officers.  Journal of Police Science & Administration, Vol 6(4), 479-481.

Li, J., Lepp, A., & Barkley, J. E. (2015). Locus of control and cell phone use: Implications for sleep quality, academic performance, and subjective well-being.  Computers in Human Behavior, 52, 450–457.

Martin, N. & Dixon, P.  (1994).  The effects of freshman orientation and locus of control on adjustment to college: a follow-up study.   Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Volume 22, (2), pp. 201-208.

Mlott, R., and Mlott, Y.(1975). Dogmatism and locus of control in individuals who smoke, stopped smoking, and never smoked. Journal of Community Psychology, 3, 53-57.

Naditch, M.(1975). Locus of control and drinking behavior in a sample of men in army basic training. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43, 96.

Neymotin F. & Nemzer LR. (2014).  Locus of control and obesity.  Frontiers in Endocrinology 2014 Oct 7;5:159.  

Organ, D. W., & Greene, C. N. (1974). Role ambiguity, locus of control, and work satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 59(1), 101–102.

Peterson, M.W. (1985), Institutional research: An evolutionary perspective. New Directions for Institutional Research, 1985: 5-15. 

Pryer, M., and Distefano, M.(1977). Correlates of locus of control among male alcoholics. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 33(1), 300-303.

Rotter, J.B.(1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 33(1), 300-303.

Pfeffer, J. & Salancik, G. (1978).  The External Control of Organizations, Harper & Row, pp 39-61.

Williams, A.F.(1967). Self-concepts of college problem drinkers. Quarterly Journal of Studies in Alcoholism, 28, 267-276.

Williams, GCGrow VMFreedman ZRRyan RMDeci EL. (1996).  Motivational predictors of weight loss and weight-loss maintenance.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Jan (70) 1: 115-126.

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