Locus of control measures evaluate which forces individuals believe to be controlling their lives, or specific aspects of their lives. People with an internal locus of control believe that their own actions determine the rewards that they obtain, while those with an external locus of control believe that their own behaviour doesn't matter much and that rewards in life are generally outside of their control. This matters for outcomes: for example, people with an external locus of control tend to be more stressed and prone to clinical depression.

However, the meaning of different dimensions of the locus of control has been found to vary across cultural contexts. Cheng et al (2013) note that higher external control scales were reported for people from collectivist societies. The authors propose that collectivistic societies might have a less negative connotation for external control.

Measurement tool

The most widely used measure of locus of control was developed by Rotter (1966) and measures the extent to which people believe external and internal forces determine their lives. The measure contains 29 items measuring the internal and the external locus of control. Link for more information can be found here

Other models have been proposed in literature. Levenson (1981) argued for a three-dimensional structure, measuring internal control (the individual determines their life), powerful others (others may determine an individual's outcome, but others can also be influenced by the individual) and uncontrollable chance. Levenson's measure is a multidimensional 24-item scale. Link for more information can be found here

Some researchers prefer to measure sphere-specific loci of control and this may be better suited to some studies. For example, Furnham’s (1986) measure gauges locus of control specific to the financial and economic events in life. Link for more information can be found here. 


Cheng, C., Cheung, S. F., Chio, J. H. M., & Chan, M. P. S. (2013). Cultural Meaning of Perceived Control: a Meta-Analysis of Locus of Control and Psychological Symptoms across 18 Cultural Regions. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 152.

Furnham, A. (1986). Economic Locus of Control. Human Relations, 39(1), 29-43.

Levenson, H. (1981). Differentiating Among Internality, Powerful Others, and Chance. Research with the Locus of Control Construct, 1, 15-63.

Paulhus, D. (1983). Sphere-Specific Measures of Perceived Control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(6), 1253.

Rotter, J.B. (1966). Generalized Expectancies for Internal Versus External Control of Reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80, (1, Whole No. 609).