Part 3: Familial Origins, Age, Gender Based Differences, Cross Cultural and Regional Issues

Familial Origins

The development of locus of control has been associated with family style and resources, cultural stability and experiences with effort leading to reward (Kundi, 2014).

Many internals have grown up with families modeling typical internal beliefs; these families emphasised effort, education, responsibility and thinking, and parents typically gave their children rewards they had promised them.

In contrast, externals are typically associated with lower socioeconomic status.

Given the fact that societies experiencing social unrest increase the expectancy of being out of control, people in such societies become more external (Meyerhoff, 2004).

The research of Schneewind in 1995 suggests that “children in large single parent families headed by women are more likely to develop an external locus of control” (Schultz and Schultz, 2005, p.439).

Schultz and Schultz also claim that children in families where parents have been supportive and consistent in discipline develop internal locus of control (Schultz and Schultz, 2005).

At least one study has found that children whose parents had an external locus of control are more likely to think in a similar way, attributing their successes and failures to external causes (Mearns, n.d.).

Lefcourt summarises findings from earlier studies on the familial origins of locus of control as: “Warmth, supportiveness and parental encouragement seem to be essential for development of an internal locus” (Lefcourt, 1976, p.100).


It is sometimes assumed that as people age they will become less internal and more external, but data here has been ambiguous (Aldwin, Gilmer, 2004; Johansson et al., 2001).

Locus of control has been found to become more internal with age early on, through the way we become an adult and the responsibility this has for an increase in life skills, which in turn give us more control over our environment. However, whether this or biological development is responsible for changes in locus of control is unclear (Meyerhoff, 2004).

Longitudinal data collected by Gatz and Karel imply that internality may increase until middle age, decreasing thereafter (Gatz, Karel, 1993).

Noting the ambiguity of data in this area, Aldwin and Gilmer cite Lachman’s claim that locus of control is ambiguous (Aldwin and Gilmer, 2004).

Indeed, there is evidence here that changes in locus of control in later life relate more visibly to increased externality, rather than reduced internality, if the two concepts are taken to be orthogonal.

Evidence cited by Schultz and Schultz (2005) suggests that locus of control increases in internality until middle age. The authors also note that attempts to control the environment become more pronounced between ages eight and fourteen (Heckausen and Schulz, 1995; Ryckman and Malikosi, 1975).

Health locus of control is how people measure and understand how people relate their health to their behaviour, health status and how long it may take to recover from a disease (Jacobs-Lawson, Waddell and Webb, 2011).

Locus of control can influence how people think and react towards their health and health decisions.

Each day we are exposed to potential diseases that may affect our health, and the way we approach that reality has a lot to do with our locus of control.

Sometimes it is expected to see older adults experience progressive declines in their health, for this reason it is believed that their health locus of control will be affected.

However, this does not necessarily mean that their locus of control will be affected negatively but older adults may experience decline in their health and this can show lower levels of internal locus of control.

Age plays an important role in one’s internal and external locus of control.

When comparing a young child and an older adult with their levels of locus of control in regards to health, the older person will have more control over their attitude and approach to the situation.

As people age they become aware of the fact that events outside of their own control happen and that other individuals can have control of their health outcomes.

A study published in the journal ‘Psychosomatic Medicine’ examined the health effect of childhood locus of control.

7,500 British adults (followed from birth), who had shown an internal locus of control at age 10, were less likely to be overweight at age 30.

The children who had an internal locus of control also appeared to have higher levels of self-esteem (Norton and Amy, 2008).

Gender Based Differences

As Schultz and Schultz (2005) point out, significant gender differences in locus of control have not been found for adults in the U.S. population (Schultz and Schultz, 2005).

However, these authors also note that there may be specific sex based differences for specific categories of items to assess locus of control.

For example, they cite evidence that men may have a greater internal locus for questions related to academic achievement (Strickland and Haley, 1980; Schultz and Schultz, 2005).

A study made by Takaki and colleagues (2006), focused on the gender differences with relationship to internal locus of control and self-efficacy in hemodialysis patients and their compliance (Takaki et al., 2006).

This study showed that females that had high internal locus of control were less compliant in regards to their health and medical advice compared to the men that participated in this study.

Compliance is known to be the degree in which a person’s behaviour, in this case the patient, has a relationship with the medical advice.

For example, a person that is compliant will correctly follow his/her doctor’s advice.

Cross Cultural and Regional Issues

The question of whether people from different cultures vary in locus of control has long been of interest to social psychologists.

Japanese people tend to be more external in locus of control orientation than people in the U.S. However, differences in locus of control between different countries within Europe, and between the U.S. and Europe, tend to be small (Berry et al, 1992).

As Berry et al. pointed out in 1992, ethnic groups within the United States have been compared on locus of control; African Americans in the U.S. are more external than whites when socioeconomic status is controlled (Dyal, 1984; Berry et al., 1992).

Berry et al. also pointed out in 1992 how research on other ethnic minorities in the U.S. (such as Hispanics) has been ambiguous.

More on cross-cultural variations in locus of control can be found (Shiraev and Levy 2004).

Research in this area indicates that locus of control has been a useful concept for researchers in cross-cultural psychology.

On a less broad scale, Sims and Baumann explained how regions in the United States cope with natural disasters differently.

The example they used was tornados.

They “applied Rotter’s theory to explain why more people have died in tornados in Alabama than in Illinois” (Hock and Roger, 2013).

They explain that after giving surveys to residents of four counties in both Alabama and Illinois, Alabama residents were shown to be more external in their way of thinking about events that occur in their lives. Illinois residents, however, were more internal.

Because Alabama residents had a more external way of processing information, they took fewer precautions prior to the appearance of a tornado. Those in Illinois, however, were more prepared, thus leading to fewer casualties (Sims and Baumann, 1972).