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External Locus of Control

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Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine


Helplessness; Low self-efficacy


External locus of control is the belief that one’s behavior will not lead to valued reinforcement that is available in the environment and therefore not under one’s control. The occurrence of reinforcement is believed to be a function of factors out of one’s control such as luck, chance, or randomness.


External Locus of Control

External locus of control anchors one end of a continuum of the locus of control construct with the other end anchored by internal locus of control. The construct developed out of work by E. Jerry Phares and Julian Rotter in the 1950s at Ohio State University and was influenced strongly by Alfred Adler’s earlier work on striving for superiority. Feelings of inferiority were thought to be associated with externality. Rotter published his initial paper containing the external locus of control construct in 1966 that included the now famous Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (I-E) to measure the...

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References and Readings

  • Hand, M. P. (2008). Psychological resilience: The impact of positive and negative life events upon optimism, hope, and perceived locus of control. Germany: VDM Verlag.

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  • Lefcourt, H. M. (1983). Research with the locus of control construct (Developments and social problems, Vol. 2). New York: Academic Press.

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  • Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80(1), 1–28, Whole No. 609.

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  • Wallston, K. A. (2005). The validity of the multidimensional health locus of control scales. Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 623–631.

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Correspondence to Gary Davis .

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© 2013 Springer Science+Business Media, New York

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Davis, G. (2013). External Locus of Control. In: Gellman, M.D., Turner, J.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer, New York, NY.

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