Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Locus of control and motivation

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Locus of control and motivation:
What is the relationship between LOC and motivation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Case study

Timothy is a 30 year old man who lives by himself in an apartment in the city. Every fortnight he struggles to afford the expensive rent, and pay for his groceries; Timothy barely gets by and lives paycheck to paycheck. He works in an accounting firm and does the bare minimum he has to without getting fired. His boss reminds him often that if he worked harder, a promotion and a raise could be nearby. He says to his co-workers and family when they suggest working harder that there is 'no point' as it would make 'no difference', and that this is how his life is 'supposed to be'. It could be suggested that Timothy has a high external locus of control, low motivation, and possible learned helplessness. Understanding this relationship could help explain how to improve Timothy's motivation, which would increase how hard he works to get that raise.

Locus of control (LOC) relates to how much an individual believes they are in control of their life, and how much the outcomes of events reflect their actions and decision making. There are three types of locus's[grammar?] of control, these being internal, external, and bi-local (April, Dharani & Peters, 2012).

Motivation is what directs and influences behaviours of individuals, these could be intrinsic motivators such as enjoyment, or extrinsic motivators such as prizes and external benefits. There are four main theories of motivation that will be focused on these being the expectancy-value model, learned helplessness theory, goal-setting theory, and reactance theory (Reeve, 2018). These four theories each hold some focus onto expectancies which integrates closely with LOC.

The importance of understanding LOC and the relationship with motivation is evident when analysing the research previously done. The research focuses on academics and schooling, the work-place, approaching situations, and incentives (Karabenick, 1972). Understanding this relationship will help teachers, therapists, managers, and individuals improve motivation which could overall improve daily living.

In relation to the case study above, the individual is suffering from a high external locus of control,[grammar?] understanding this, and changing the perspective could increase motivation. By doing this it could increase how much harder he works therefore receiving the raise which includes a larger income, this would increase daily living as he would be able to afford rent, groceries and even extra curricular activities.

Figure 1. There are four main focus questions
Focus questions
  • What are the three main types of locus of control, and how do they differentiate?
  • How do the four theories of motivation relate to the three types of LOC?
  • How does research explain the relationship between motivation and LOC?
  • What is the importance of understanding this relationship? (Figure 1.)

Types of Locus of Control[edit | edit source]

The locus of control is often perceived as a personality trait, where one is either internal or external. It is interpreted as a scale to which one person views the outcomes of their life as a reflection of their own actions or not.

Internal[edit | edit source]

An internal locus of control is when an individual believes that their actions affect their life and what happens in it (Carnes & Knotts, 2018). Somebody with an internal LOC will feel in control of their life, and attribute their successes or failures to themselves (Jansen, Giebels, van Rompay, Austrup & Junger, 2016). Those with an internal LOC share some characteristics, they are often aware of their self efficacy (belief and confidence in their personal capabilities), hard working, believe in themselves, independent individuals, driven by their own goals, and responsible (Boysan & Kiral, 2016).

External[edit | edit source]

An external locus of control is when an individual believes that what happens in their life is not reflected by their own actions (Carnes & Knotts, 2018). Somebody with an external LOC does not feel in control of their life, and often behave how they want disregarding possible outcomes. An individual with an external LOC would attribute their successes or failures to external factors, and would lack the feeling of changing their own behaviour to improve. External factors may involve the people around them, a higher power (i.e. God), destiny, luck, biases, unfairness etc (Jansen et al., 2016). Those with an external LOC share some characteristics such as irresponsible, dissatisfied, irrational, and lack the feeling of purpose (Boysan & Kiral, 2016).

Bi-local[edit | edit source]

A bi-local locus of control is when an individual has external and internal beliefs about what (or who) is responsible for their path in life (April, Dharani & Peters, 2012). Those with a bi-local LOC may feel in control of some aspects of their life but not in others. Individuals with a bi-local LOC may also attribute successes or failures to themselves or to others, this varies depending on the situation. It has been suggested that a bi-local LOC represents a balance of the two rather than going from one extreme to the other. It is believed that those with this sort of LOC cope more efficiently, and often achieve a maximum level of happiness (April, Dharani & Peters, 2012).

Theories of Motivation[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Everyone is motivated differently

Motivation is what drives people's actions everyday, it is why people get out of bed in the morning, why they go to work, and why they keep on going (Figure 2.) (Reeve, 2018). Four theories of motivation will be discussed below that explain motivation, these will be analysed, and related to the three types of LOC.

Expectancy-value model[edit | edit source]

The expectancy-value theory is the theory that expectancies and values can predict motivation (Figure 3.). As it states in the name there are two main aspects of this model, the first being expectancies, and the second being values. Expectancies relate to one's belief of their own competence and relates to the expected difficulty of the task. These two combined leads to the overall expectancy of success of the particular task, this end [say what?] expectancy results in the performance. Previous experience can also influence one's emotions, and beliefs towards a task, which influences the task value. The term value in this model means the perceived attractiveness of the task at hand (Trautwein et al., 2012). The task value relates to areas such as interest, utility, attainment and costs. The task value and it's four factors can result in either an approach or avoidance choice towards a task (Reeve, 2018). The largest limitation to this model is that it does not consider the individuals[grammar?] personal attributions such as personality, skills, knowledge and current emotions (Trautwein et al., 2012).

Figure 3. Expectancy Value Model

In relation to this model it would be believed that strong internal LOC individuals would perform highly on tasks as they hold high expectancies of themselves as they believe they determine their results. They would also hold strong task values, and often use a more approach style of choice towards tasks.

Those with a strong external LOC would be the opposite of an internal individual (Jansen et al., 2016). It would be believed that they would not hold high expectancies of their own performance and often perform poorly. Their task values would also be low, and use avoidance choices more often.

A bi-local LOC would involve a mixture of both these people. If a task appears to be of high importance it would be expected that the individual would have a large task value, and use approach choices. If a task does not appear to be 'worth it' a more avoidance choice would be taken. The expectancy component would vary depending on the task.

Goal-Setting Theory[edit | edit source]

Goal setting is developing a plan of action to reach an end result (the goal). This plan is useful in motivation, organisation, and knowing what to do next. Goal-setting theory states that goals should be difficult, specific, and congruent rather than simple and easy to enhance performance (Baird, Tempest & Warland, 2010). The task needs to be challenging so that the individual does not become bored, the goal also must be congruent with the individuals overall needs, and must be specific so that it is clear as to what must be done. This theory states that having these types of goals also influence the individuals motivation and goal commitment. A limitation to goal-setting theory is that it does not mention the possibility of having more than one goal at a time, and how several goals may conflict with one another (Latham, Brcic & Steinhauer, 2016).

Those with an external LOC may find goal setting too draining, especially when they believe that the outcome will not affect themselves. It is also likely that those with an external LOC will generate easy and simple goals rather than difficult, specific and congruent goals.

It is more likely that goal setting would be more influential on those with an internal LOC. These individuals are already known to be more driven by their goals, but creating this specific type of goal would increase their motivation and performance drastically (Boysan & Kiral, 2016).

Applying goal setting theory to individuals with a bi-local LOC would vary in likelihood of success. The goal and it's outcomes would influence the individual greatly, if the person was affected greatly it would be assumed the theory would work well, if the person cared very little the theory may not be as useful.

Learned Helplessness Theory[edit | edit source]

The learned helplessness theory believes that outcome expectancies are the fundamental factor for learning a sense of helplessness. When someone believes that an outcome (positive or negative) is possible regardless of their behaviour then a learned helplessness may develop. Learned helplessness is gradually learned when things keep going not as planned (Mikulincer & Marshand, 1991). There are three main factors to this theory; contingency, cognition, and behaviour. It would be believed that if a behaviour appears to not be contingent, an individual believes they are not in control, and do not behave to prevent the outcomes, a learned helplessness would occur. A limitation to this theory is that it primarily focuses on outcome expectancies instead of considering other aspects such as personality, mood, and emotions (Mikulincer & Marshand, 1991).

This theory ties in well with LOC, someone with a strong external locus of control would be very susceptible to learned helplessness as their cognition would view outcomes as uncontrollable, and they would not actively avoid these outcomes.

Someone with a internal LOC would be very unlikely to attain a learned helplessness view of life. These people attribute successes and failures primarily to themselves and as such would behave actively to avoid any negative outcomes (Jansen et al., 2016).

In regards to a bi-local LOC, a mixed approach would also be expected. For these individuals the situation and the results would vary depending on the importance. It would be possible for them to learn a sense of helplessness, but the internal aspect would make this still unlikely.

Reactance Theory[edit | edit source]

Reactance theory states that people react when they hold an expectation that they are supposed to control what happens to them. When one's control of their own freedom feels threatened they often react to this loss of control negatively, such as becoming aggravated or aggressive (Mirick, 2016). This theory is similar to the learned helplessness theory as they both involve how people respond to uncontrollable events. Wortman and Brehm (1975) integrated the two models, at the beginning of an uncontrollable event individuals would fight against it, and behave in ways that show they are still in control. Usually this first stage works, the individual will regain control and their life would move forward. In some cases this does not happen and the individual is repeatedly shown that they have little to no control, when this occurs the individual may react and get angry. After a while, the individual realises that reacting in an aggressive manner does not help them regain control and a learned helplessness mindset is obtained. A limitation to reactance theory is similar to some of the other theories discussed, being it does not consider all aspects such as emotions, and personality (Reeve, 2018).

It would be assumed that those with an internal LOC react strongly when something does not go as expected, this is because they feel they are in control and their beliefs become incongruent with the situation. The reactance theory is more applicable in this scenario, but it is still unlikely a learned helplessness approach would be taken unless the uncontrollable events were extremely severe. An individual with an external LOC may be affected very little by this theory as they explain the results of events in their lives externally and would lack a sense of control needed to be able to react. Rather than reacting, the individual may just start adapting a learned helplessness approach (Carnes & Knotts, 2018).

Somebody with a bi-local LOC could react depending on the severity of the situation, how important it is to them, and their original beliefs of their control for a specific event (April, Dharani & Peters, 2012). The integrated model of reactance and learned helplessness would be most applicable to these individuals. This is because they would begin to fight the uncontrollable as part of their internal LOC, and then once realised they are not in control they could react and possibly get aggressive. Overtime the reaction would diminish and they could either adapt a learned helplessness approach which represents their external LOC, or move forward and take control again shifting to the internal LOC.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Timothy got 45% on his math exam, he said to himself 'I will study more next time'. Timothy most likely has a ____ LOC?

bad at maths.

2 Which theory or model uses values to predict motivation?

Reactance Theory.
Goal Setting Theory.
Learned Helplessness Theory.
Expectancy Value Model.

3 Applying Learned Helplessness Theory to somebody with an internal LOC would mean:

Learned Helplessness would occur.
Learned Helplessness would be brief.
Learned Helplessness would most likely not occur.
They would learn to ask for help.

Relationship Between Motivation and Locus of Control[edit | edit source]

Many studies have been done that focus on and study the relationship between motivation and the locus of control[grammar?]. Four studies will be focused on that examine the relationship in school settings, situation approaching, in the face of failure, and within the workplace. Other aspects are considered such as self efficacy, intrinsic motivation, achievement motivation, and management styles.

In Schools[edit | edit source]

A study by Mourges, Hein, Tan, Diffley, and Grigorenko (2016) administered surveys of self efficacy, LOC, and intrinsic motivation to 8,586 people who applied to a prestigious high school in Texas (Figure 5.). Those who were enrolled (818 students) were compared to those who were not enrolled. The main finding in this study was that the students enrolled were found to have scored higher on cognitive tests (i.e. GPA) and also scored high on the non cognitive factors suggesting a correlation between the two (Mourges, et al. 2016). It suggests that those with higher GPA's[grammar?] are more intrinsically motivated, have stronger internal LOC's[grammar?] and hold higher self efficacy beliefs. Relating this to everyday could explain why some students perform better in schools than others: being able to teach and encourage students about increasing self efficacy, relating events in their lives to themselves (LOC), and how to enjoy learning (intrinsic motivation) could increase school performance. It is possible that the results of this study from the enrolled students suggest that those with a strong internal LOC may also be highly intrinsically motivated and that these two are correlated with each other. The limitations that were suggested for this study were about the sensitivity of the scales used to measure the scores, and how accurately the surveys represented the non cognitive factors (Mourges, et al. 2016).

Approaching Situations[edit | edit source]

Rovenpor and Isbell (2018) focused their study on control beliefs (LOC) and how they lead people to approach situations (motivation). It was found that control beliefs encourage engagement in positive situations because they enhance awareness of opportunities. It was also found that control beliefs encourage approaching negative situations by increasing one's confidence. These findings suggest that having larger control beliefs (internal LOC) makes an individual more likely to take part in positive or negative situations because of the possible benefits of the outcomes (i.e increase confidence) (Rovenpor & Isbell, 2018). This study is important in regards to understanding motivation and LOC because it helps explain why some people are motivated to enter situations even when they are negative. Applying these findings to everyday could influence one's decision on partaking in a given situation, and could influence one's level of motivation. The main limitation suggested to this study would be the measuring scales and how applicable they are to what they are trying to measure such as the control beliefs (Rovenpor & Isbell, 2018).

Facing Failure[edit | edit source]

Stuart Karabenick (1972) studied the effect of success and failure on achievement motives and locus of control. Sixty-one males from a university in Michigan undertook self reports relating to control beliefs and these were scaled between high and low internal beliefs. These participants also took part in difficult tasks such as solving anagrams and alphanumeric substitutions (substituting numbers for letters). The control belief scores were compared to the participants[grammar?] achievement motivation for completing the tasks even when faced with failure. It was found that those with higher internal control beliefs remained motivated when failing several tasks (Karabenick, 1972). This suggests that having a strong internal locus of control contributes to maintaining strong achievement motives. This study is also important when relating to LOC and motivation,[grammar?] this is because it helps explain the motivation differences between external and internal LOC. These findings can be applied in real world situations, more specifically in the workplace and school settings. Understanding which employees or students have stronger external control beliefs could assist the employer or teacher motivate them differently to increase their achievement motivation (i.e extrinsically motivate them). A limitation associated with this study is the lack of applicability suggested for the real world, and lack of implications provided.

The Workplace[edit | edit source]

Paul Spector (1982) believed that the LOC is an important variable in regards to explaining human's behaviour within organisations. The meta-analysis by Spector suggested that locus of control may moderate the relationship between motivation and incentives. It was concluded that incentive based work systems works best with internal LOC individuals and not with external LOC's[grammar?]. It was also found that internal LOC individuals are motivated best when managers use a participative approach, and for external LOC the more directive approaches of management are preferred. This meta-analysis further supports the belief that external and internal LOC's individuals are motivated differently and behave differently. Because somebody with an internal LOC relates rewards and losses to themselves, it would make sense that they prefer to actively participate and work towards their own incentives. The opposite would be applied for an external LOC meaning they need to be directly told what to do, and are not as motivated by incentives (Spector, 1982). This study was done primarily for the workplace but the findings could be applied outside of an organisation and into other areas such as schools and therapy. The major limitation for this meta-analysis was that the statistics were not provided meaning it could not be assessed whether the findings were significant or not.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Throughout this chapter it has been evident that a relationship exists between motivation and locus of control, and that the types of LOC's[grammar?] are motivated differently.

Focus Question One: The three main types of locus of control are internal, external, and bi-local. These all differentiate in relation to how the individual would explain and relate situations and events that happen to them. Internal LOC's[grammar?] would relate events to themselves and believe they are in control, an external LOC individual would relate events externally to other people or to higher powers and believe they have little control, and a bi-local LOC involve a mix between the two depending on the situation or task (April, Dharani & Peters, 2012).

Focus Question Two: The expectancy value model relates strongest to internal LOC individuals as they would have stronger task values and higher expectancies unlike somebody with an external LOC. The goal-setting theory would relate strongest to somebody with an internal LOC, creating a difficult, specific and congruent goal would assist internal LOC's[grammar?] in increasing motivation to complete their goals. The learned helplessness theory is most applicable to an external LOC, as they already view situations as uncontrollable they are more susceptible to adapting this approach of thinking. Reactance theory best applies to an internal LOC as they would react when something does not go to plan as they believe they are in control. The integrated model of reactance and learned helplessness best applies to a bi-local LOC as this individual would experience a mixture of both reaction styles.

Focus Question Three: The first study suggests a relationship between intrinsic motivation and a strong internal LOC, and a relationship between scoring high on intellectual tests and having strong intrinsic motivation, self efficacy, and internal control beliefs (Mourges, et al. 2016). The second study suggests that having a strong internal LOC motivates individuals to approach negative or positive situations because of the potential benefits such as increased confidence (Rovenpor & Isbell, 2018). The third study found that having strong internal control beliefs motivates an individual to continue on a difficult task even when failure occurs, suggesting that an internal LOC relates to having strong achievement motivation (Karabenick, 1972). The last study found that incentive based work is most beneficial for internal LOC's[grammar?] alongside participative management styles, whilst a directive management approach style works best for external LOC individuals (Spector, 1982).

Focus Question Four: Understanding this relationship between the locus of control and motivation is important because it can be related and applied to many real world situations. As stated before it can be applied in workplaces, schools, and any situation (positive, or negative). It helps explain why some people persist on tasks even when failure occurs, and why some students may do better in school (Mourges, et al. 2016). Once the locus of control is understood, it can be applied to individuals who struggle with being motivated, and with the help of teachers, managers and even therapists it could improve the quality of daily living for the individual.

Motivation is important in nearly every aspect of daily living, applying and understanding the LOC to motivation could help many individuals who struggle with being motivated. Using theories and previous studies supports the idea that motivation can be improved and that the locus of control is involved and needs to be considered in the process of motivation improvement.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

April, K., Dharani, B., & Peters, K. (2012). Impact of Locus of Control Expectancy on Level of Well-Being. Review Of European Studies, 4(2), 124-135.

Baird, T., Tempest, S., & Warland, A. (2010). Service Users' Perceptions and Experiences of Goal Setting Theory and Practice in an Inpatient Neurorehabilitation Unit. British Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 73(8), 373-378.

Boysan, M., & Kiral, E. (2016). Associations between procrastination, personality, perfectionism, self-esteem and locus of control. British Journal Of Guidance & Counselling, 45(3), 284-296.

Carnes, A., & Knotts, K. (2018). Control and Expectancy: Locus of Control as a Predictor of Psychological Entitlement. Employee Responsibilities And Rights Journal, 30(2), 81-97.

Jansen, A., Giebels, E., van Rompay, T., Austrup, S., & Junger, M. (2016). Order and control in the environment: Exploring the effects on undesired behaviour and the importance of locus of control. Legal And Criminological Psychology, 22(2), 213-227.

Karabenick, S. (1972). Valence of success and failure as a function of achievement motives and locus of control. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 21(1), 101-110.

Latham, G., Brcic, J., & Steinhauer, A. (2016). Toward an Integration of Goal Setting Theory and the Automaticity Model. Applied Psychology, 66(1), 25-48.

Magidson, J., Roberts, B., Collado-Rodriguez, A., & Lejuez, C. (2014). Theory-driven intervention for changing personality: Expectancy value theory, behavioral activation, and conscientiousness. Developmental Psychology, 50(5), 1442-1450.

Mikulincer, M., & Marshand, O. (1991). An Excuse Perspective of the Learned Helplessness Paradigm: The Self-Protective Role of Causal Attribution. Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology, 10(2), 134-151.

Mirick, R. (2016). Reactance theory: A model for instructor communication in the classroom. Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning In Psychology, 2(3), 219-229. https//

Mourgues, C., Hein, S., Tan, M., Diffley III, R., & Grigorenko, E. (2016). The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Predicting Academic Trajectories of High School Students in a Selective Private School. European Journal Of Psychological Assessment, 32(1), 84-94.

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (7th ed., p. 240-251). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Rovenpor, D., & Isbell, L. (2018). Do emotional control beliefs lead people to approach positive or negative situations? Two competing effects of control beliefs on emotional situation selection. Emotion, 18(3), 313-331.

Spector, P. (1982). Behavior in organizations as a function of employee's locus of control. Psychological Bulletin, 91(3), 482-497.

Trautwein, U., Marsh, H., Nagengast, B., Lüdtke, O., Nagy, G., & Jonkmann, K. (2012). Probing for the multiplicative term in modern expectancy–value theory: A latent interaction modeling study. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 104(3), 763-777.

External links[edit | edit source]