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Internal & External Locus of Control

Internal & External Locus of Control

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the cultural worldview spectrum re: the degree to which human action or choice can influence, change, or control events and situations.

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Internal/External Locus of Control

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How much control do we actually have over the events and circumstances in our lives? Are we in control? Or is it simply destiny and fate at work? Well, I'm Marlene, and that's a question I'd like to take up with you today, and I'd like to look at it from the perspective of cultural world view.

Now, I'm going to start by asking you if you've ever heard this poem. I bet you have. These are the last two lines from Invictus. "I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul."

William Ernest Henley was the poet who wrote that, and I quote it because I think it reflects so well the spirit we have here in the United States. One of being the captain of our own soul, shaping our own destiny. Here we have what's called an internal locus of control, or non-fatalism.

Our cultural world view is that the individual controls action. We're the masters of our fate. So that is one way of answering this question culturally. It's the world view position that we've taken on this.

Now, of course, it's not absolute; it doesn't apply to everybody. But in general, it describes an attitude here in the United States, a world view. So that is one way of answering this question of locus of control. Who's in control? The individual.

OK. So that is-- yet it is interesting to see how, I think, this country has come to have that attitude. It's almost like the land itself expresses this worldview that there's a lot of opportunity. We've grown up with a frontier mentality. Things aren't working where you are? Go west, young man. Make a new life for yourself. Shape your destiny.

Free will. Our courts respect it. It's written right into our constitution. We have big ideas, and, if we suffer setbacks or our children suffer setbacks, we tell them to try again. So there is this optimism and hope in our world view.

Now, the opposite of this would be the external locus of control, or fatalism. And this is a point of view that sees forces outside the individual. Social factors, such as the system, just plain luck, or maybe God or heavenly forces, are really in control and the individual does not have much control. So this would be seeing fate as ultimately being in control.

So this question, is it individual or is it fate? It is a question, I think, that all human beings ask, and we all, perhaps, answer it individually. And cultures themselves have taken worldview positions on this.

And, once again, it's not absolute for every culture. People differ within cultures in terms of how they will answer that question.

But now a culture that does look more to fate as being in control. This culture would feel-- the individuals would feel like they don't have as much of a chance, perhaps, to shape their destiny, that it is not up to them.

If there is a set back, perhaps it was destined. Not perhaps, they probably feel it is destined. Struggles are inevitable, unavoidable. They may have suffered invasions or people taking over their territory. So there's a sense of defeat and fatalism and destiny.

So what happens when you find yourself in conflict or there's a cultural conflict where people hold these opposing worldview positions about who's in control? You may find there is miscommunication and difficulties that come out of this.

Say you are doing business or doing a work project and wanting to make some improvements, and you're expecting some action or some accountability to change things. And you find you're working with someone who has, perhaps, worked in this particular situation for quite some time and feels, well, this is the way it is. This is destiny. And may not take action.

The person coming from the non-fatalist point of view may perceive this person to be lazy, perhaps, irresponsible, not understanding why they are not rising up with optimism and being assertive and taking control. And it's an internalized perspective about one's role in the world. One's ability to even make change.

Now, the person who is coming from this point of view may look at the individual who is trying to take all this action and see them as having inflated expectations. Perhaps they don't have respect for the way things just are, the natural order of things. This is the way it is. We accept it.

So this would be two opposing points of view that could come to play in any sort of work project. And they could play out in a family home situation where people accept their roles, perhaps the situation within the home life, as they're lot in life, their destiny.

So in a conflict resolution process it can also influence a person's conflict style or approach to solving a conflict in that the actions that a person would feel empowered to take would be different depending on what point of view they're coming from. Do they feel comfortable and confident in their ability to be assertive? To perhaps approach someone? Particularly if it's someone of a different status level to make some change?

Or would that be a very uncomfortable thing to do? Would they feel that this is destiny in terms of their role, in terms of the way things are in life, fate?

So being able to take actions to make change, questioning, perhaps, situations, would also be different for parties coming from these different world views about fate or non-fatalism. So world view position on taking action to control events in our life differs in cultures. It doesn't apply to everyone, but it could be helpful to understand these differences.

I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know
External Locus of Control

A cultural worldview where people believe events are mostly controlled by forces outside the individual; also known as fatalism.

Internal Locus of Control

A cultural worldview where people believe that individuals mostly control circumstance; also known as non-fatalism.