Part 2: Applications: Health Psychology, Organisational Psychology and Religion, Consumer Research and Other Areas of Application


Health Psychology

The locus of control’s most prominent known application may have been in the area of health psychology, largely due to the work of Kenneth Wallston.

Scales to measure locus of control in the health domain were reviewed by Furnham and Steele in 1993.

The most well known are the Health Locus of Control Scale and the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale/MHLC (Wallston, Wallston and DeVellis, 1976; Wallston, Wallston, Kaplan and Maides, 1976).

The latter scale is based on the idea (reiterating Levenson’s earlier work) that health may be attributed to three sources:

  • Internal factors (such as self determination of a healthy lifestyle)
  • Powerful others (such as one’s doctor)
  • Luck (which is very dangerous as lifestyle advice will be ignored – these people are very difficult to help)

Some of the scales, reviewed by Furnham and Steele (1993), relate to health in more specific domains, such as:

  • Obesity – for example Saltzer’s Weight Locus of Control Scale (Saltzer, 1982) or Stotland and Zuroff’s Dieting Beliefs Scale (Stotland and Zuroff, 1990)
  • Mental health – for example Wood and Letak’s Mental Health Locus of Control Scale (Wood and Letak, 1982) or the Depression Locus of Control Scale of Whiteman, Desmond and Price (Whiteman and Desmond Price, 1987).
  • Cancer – the Cancer Locus of Control Scale of Pruyn (Pruyn et al., 1988).

In discussing applications of the concept in health psychology, Furnham and Steele refer to Claire Bradley’s work, linking locus of control to the management of diabetes mellitus.

Empirical data on health locus of control in a number of fields was reviewed by Norman and Bennett in 1995, and they made note that the data on whether certain health related behaviours are related to an internal health locus of control have in fact been ambiguous (Norman and Bennett, 1995).

They state that some studies found that internal health locus of control is linked with increased exercise, but other studies have found a weak relationship or non existent relationship between exercise behaviours such as jogging and an internal health locus of control.

A similar ambiguity is noted for data on the relationship between internal health locus of control and other health related behaviours, such as breast self-examination, weight control and preventative health behaviour.

Of particular interest are the data cited on the relationship between internal health locus of control and alcohol consumption.

Norman and Bennett note that some studies comparing alcoholics with non alcoholics suggest that alcoholism is linked to increased externality for health locus of control. However, other studies have linked alcoholism with increased internality (Norman and Bennett, 1995).

Similar ambiguity has been found in studies of alcohol consumption in the general, non alcoholic population.

They are more optimistic in reviewing the literature on the relationship between internal health locus of control and smoking cessation, although they also point out that there are grounds for supposing that powerful others and internal health loci of control may be linked with this behaviour.

It is considered that, rather than being caused by one or the other, alcoholism is directly related to the strength of the locus, regardless of type, internal or external.

They argue that a stronger relationship is found when health locus of control is assessed for specific domains than when general measures are taken.

In general, studies that have used more behaviour specific health locus scales have tended to produce more positive results (Lefcourt, 1991).

Rather than other sales, such as the MHLC scale, these scales were found to be more predictive of general behaviour than more general scales, such as the MHLC scale (Norman and Bennet, 1995).

Norman and Bennet argue that health locus of control is better at predicting health related behaviour if studied concurrently with health value (the value people attach to their health), suggesting that health value is an important moderator variable in the health locus of control relationship (Norman and Bennet, 1995).

For example, Weiss and Larsen found an increased relationship between internal health locus of control and health when health value was assessed (Weiss and Larsen, 1990).

Norman and Bennett also cite several studies that used health related locus of control scales in specific domains (Norman and Bennett, 1995):

  • Smoking cessation (Georgio and Bradley, 1992)
  • Diabetes (Ferraro et al., 1987)
  • Tablet-treated diabetes (Bradley et al., 1990)
  • Hypertension (Stantion, 1987)
  • Arthritis (Nicasio et al, 1985)
  • Cancer (Pruyn et al, 1988)
  • Heart and lung disease (Allison, 1987)

Despite the importance Norman and Bennett attach to specific measures of locus of control, there are general textbooks on personality such as Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence by Maltby, Day and Macaskill (2007), which cite studies that link an internal locus of control with improved physical and mental health, and quality of life in people with a range of conditions such as HIV, migraines, epilepsy, diabetes and kidney disease.

Whyte correlated locus of control with the academic success of students, in the 1970s and 80s, enrolled in higher-education courses (Whyte, 1977, 1978, 1980).

Students who were more internal believed that focus and hard work would result in academic success, and they performed better academically. Those students who were identified as more external (believing that their future depended upon luck or fate) tended to perform less well academically.

Cassandra B. Whyte researched how control tendency influenced behavioural outcomes in the academic realm by examining the effects of various modes of counselling on grade improvements and the locus of control of high risk college students (Whyte, 1978).

Rotter examined studies regarding the correlation between gambling and either an internal or external locus of control. Internals have been found to focus more so on safe and moderate wagers when they gamble, whereas externals take more chances and bet more on a card on number that has not appeared for a while, under the impression that it has a larger chance of occuring (Hock, 2013).

Organisational Psychology and Religion

Other fields to which the concept of locus of control has been applied include:

  • Industrial and organisational psychology
  • Sports psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Psychology of religion

Holt, Clark, Kreuter and Rubio have studied the relationship between health psychology and the psychology of religion through a questionnaire to assess spiritual-health locus of control (Holt et al., 2003).

They distinguished between an active spiritual-health locus of control, in which “God empowers the individual to take healthy actions” (p.294) (i.e. being more internal) and a more passive spiritual-health locus of control, where health is left up to God (i.e. being more external) (Holt et al., 2003).

In industrial and organisational psychology, it has been found that internals are more likely to take positive action to change occupation, as opposed to merely talking about a change of job, than externals (Allen, Weeks and Moffat, 2005, Maltby, Day and Macaskill, 2007).

Consumer Research

Certain academics have applied locus of control to the field of consumer research.

For example, Martin, Veer and Pervan examined how the weight locus of control of women (beliefs about the control of body weight) influence how they react to female models with different body shapes portrayed in advertising (Martin, Veer and Pervan, 2007).

They found that women who believe they can control their weight (who are internal in their beliefs) respond most favourably to slim models in advertising, this favourable response being mediated by self-referencing (Martin, Veer and Pervan, 2007).

In contrast, women who feel powerless about their weight (who are external in their beliefs), self-reference larger sized models, however they only have a preference for larger sized models if the advertisement is for a non fattening product. For fattening products, they exhibit a similar preference for larger sized models and slim models (Martin, Veer and Pervan, 2007).

The weight locus of control measure was also found to be correlated with measures for weight control beliefs and willpower (Martin, Veer and Pervan, 2007).

lity (a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.85) (Salmani Nodoushan, 2012).

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