Locus of control: What does it mean for our students?

“Locus of control” was a new term that I heard for the first time yesterday. It is a concept that was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, and is now an important tool in personality studies. Locus of control is about the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them. Individuals with a high internal locus of control believe that events result mostly from their own behavior and actions.

It is applied to many different  fields, but basically it says that people with a high “internal” locus believe that they control what happens to them. People with a high “external” focus believe that they have no control over what happens to them, that events are controlled by gods, aliens, or “the government.”

This concept was interesting to me, because it gives me another tool for understanding my students and how they learn. Locus of control seems to help predict academic success, like in this study by
Gifford, Briceno-Perriot, and Mianzo that found, “first-year students who entered university with lower scores on the locus of control scale (internals) obtained significantly higher GPAs than those who scored higher (externals) on this same scale.” This scale also seems to vary between cultural backgrounds and gender. This study by Takaya Kohyama shows that,”Students from both Japan and Taiwan exhibited higher levels of external orientation than did students from the USA.”

In discussions with my son about this issue, it is his opinion that externalizing influences in Japanese society are so strong that it would be nearly impossible to overcome, even if the students possessed the knowledge of the differences.


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