Locus of Control:  Implications
The locus of control construct (and attribution theory) has a lengthy history in psychology.  Locus of control is a popular and important concept in many theories of individual differences “because it has consistently shown a difference between ‘normal’ and ‘special’ populations” (Elliott, 1997, p. 27).   The research literature has consistently associated a high internal locus of control (vs low external) with a wide array of positive outcomes.  Briefly, research (Beirne- Smith, Ittenbach, & Patton, 1998; Borkowski, Weyhing, & Carr, 1988; Elliott, 1997; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002b; Rivera et al., 1998; Snow et al., 1996) has suggested the following:
  • Level of internality is correlated with academic achievement (teacher grades and tests) and the degree of effort a student invests in free-time intellectual and learning activities.  The positive effect of being a “high internal” on academic achievement may not be direct, but rather, may be mediated through other academic facilitators.
  • High internals are better able to defer gratification, adopt a long-term future-oriented perspective, and are more persistent when faced with difficult and challenging tasks.
  • The positive effect of causal attributions varies as a function of the primary characteristics of causality.  In general, positive adaptation and outcomes occur when success or failure is attributed to stable internal characteristics (e.g., ability).  Within-person trait-like characteristics are hypothesized to be viewed by the student as being readily available when faced with future learning tasks.  Attributions to more unstable but controllable internal characteristics can also be adaptive.  For example, motivation and persistence are characteristics that tend to fluctuate over time (therefore are not reflective of an unchangeable stable trait).  These more fluid personal characteristics can be modified by the student.  Finally, the negative effects of failure can be buffered when the causal attribution focuses on more unstable, uncontrollable, and external factors (e.g., bad luck).
  • There is a large body of attribution theory/locus of control literature focused on students with behavior and learning problems.  This is not unexpected given that:  (a) a student’s beliefs about the causes of success and failures impacts future learning; and (b) attribution beliefs can be environmentally influenced (Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002b).  For example, students with learning disabilities often develop significant motivation and social problems due to inaccurate perceptions of stable within-person characteristics that are often the focal point of causal success or failure (ability and skills).  Attributing unsuccessful learning to personal inabilities has been associated with a more passive learning style and learned helplessness (where many students with disabilities develop a failure expetancy and a dependence on others to solve their problems).  Research involving students with mental retardation has reported that these individuals may often display an external locus of control that, in turn, is often associated with learned helplessness and lower levels of personal responsibility, self-reliance, and self-regulatory learning.  Locus of control is an important MACM variable and a valued outcome for students with a checkered history of academic success and failure.