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Author: John Oates

Am I In Control?

Updated Wednesday, 13 January 2021
Do you believe that you control your life, or do you feel that it is controlled by other people and events? John Oates invites you to take our 'locus of control' test and find out

A boy hugging his mum

Julian Rotter coined the phrase ‘locus of control’ in the 1960s. It’s about how much we feel a sense of our own agency and power to affect what happens to us. He argued that people differ consistently in how they attribute causes to either their own acts or to external forces. Rotter found that we tend to blame outside factors when things go wrong, yet we tend to take the credit when things go well.

It is also believed to be a personality characteristic: some people are ‘internalisers’ and have a strong sense that they control their lives, while other people, ‘externalisers’, feel much more subject to the vagaries of fate. Being one or the other of these is neither good nor bad, although extreme externalising may lead to a sense of helplessness and extreme internalising may lead to anxiety.

The following test will let you see if you are an ‘internaliser’ or an ‘externaliser’. The test is based on Julian Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale published in Psychological Monographs, Volume 80, 1966.

Consider the following pairs of statements. Choose the one from each pair with which you agree. As they’ve been picked to represent two extreme, opposing positions, it may be that you don’t support either statement completely, but what’s important is to choose the one you agree with the most.

Keep a record of your answers as you go along.

    1. Many of the unhappy things in people's lives are partly due to bad luck.
    2. People's misfortunes result from the mistakes they make.
    1. One of the major reasons why we have wars is because people don't take enough interest in politics.
    2. There will always be wars, no matter how hard people try to prevent them.
    1. In the long run people get the respect they deserve in this world.
    2. Unfortunately, an individual's worth often passes unrecognised no matter how hard he tries
    1. The idea that teachers are unfair to students is nonsense.
    2. Most students don't realise the extent to which their grades are influenced by accidental happenings.
    1. Without the right breaks one cannot be an effective leader.
    2. Capable people who fail to become leaders have not taken advantage of their opportunities.
    1. No matter how hard you try some people just don't like you.
    2. People who can't get others to like them don't understand how to get along with others.
    1. I have often found that what is going to happen will happen.
    2. Trusting to fate has never turned out as well for me as making a decision to take a definite course of action.
    1. In the case of the well prepared student there is rarely, if ever, such a thing as an unfair test.
    2. Many times exam questions tend to be so unrelated to course work that studying is really useless.
    1. Becoming a success is a matter of hard work; luck has little or nothing to do with it.
    2. Getting a good job depends mainly on being in the right place at the right time.
    1. The average citizen can have an influence on government decisions.
    2. This world is run by the few people in power, and there is not much the little guy can do about it.
    1. When I make plans, I am almost certain that I can make them work.
    2. It is not always wise to plan too far ahead, because many things turn out to be a matter of good or bad fortune anyhow.
    1. In my case getting what I want has little or nothing to do with luck.
    2. Many times we might just as well decide what to do by flipping a coin.
    1. Who gets to be the boss often depends on who was lucky enough to be in the right place first.
    2. Getting people to do the right thing depends upon ability, luck has little or nothing to do with it.
    1. As far as world affairs are concerned, most of us are the victims of forces we can neither understand, nor control.
    2. By taking an active part in political and social affairs people can control world events.
    1. Most people don't realise the extent to which their lives are controlled by accidental happenings.
    2. There really is no such thing as luck.
    1. It is hard to know whether or not a person really likes you.
    2. How many friends you have depends upon how nice a person you are.
    1. In the long run the bad things that happen to us are balanced by the good ones.
    2. Most misfortunes are the result of lack of ability, ignorance, laziness, or all three.
    1. With enough effort we can wipe out political corruption.
    2. It is difficult for people to have much control over the things politicians do in office.
    1. Sometimes I can't understand how teachers arrive at the grades they give.
    2. There is a direct connection between how hard I study and the grades I get.
    1. Many times I feel that I have little influence over the things that happen to me.
    2. It is impossible for me to believe that chance or luck plays an important role in my life.
    1. People are lonely because they don't try to be friendly.
    2. There's not much use in trying too hard to please people; if they like you, they like you.
    1. What happens to me is my own doing.
    2. Sometimes I feel that I don't have enough control over the direction my life is taking.
    1. Most of the time I can't understand why politicians behave the way they do.
    2. In the long run the people are responsible for bad government on a national as well as on a local level.

A boy hugging his mum

Well done, you’ve finished the test. Now let’s add up the scores and see what kind of person you are.

Score one point for each of the following answers:

  1. a
  2. b
  3. b
  4. b
  5. a
  6. a
  7. a
  8. b
  9. b
  10. b
  11. b
  12. b
  13. a
  14. a
  15. a
  16. a
  17. a
  18. b
  19. a
  20. a
  21. b
  22. b
  23. a

How did you score?
Locus of Control refers to the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them.

The range of possible scores runs from zero, as the lowest, to 23, as the highest, and your score will give you an idea of where you fall on the Locus of Control scale. There’s no fixed dividing line between high, medium and low scores.

High Score
A high score means you have a high external Locus of Control.

Those with a high external locus of control believe that powerful others, fate, or chance primarily determine events.

Mid-range Score
Most people are likely to fall roughly in the middle of the range.

These people see themselves as being partly in control, but also significantly affected by outside events and circumstances.

Low Score
A low score means you have a high internal Locus of Control.

Individuals with a high internal locus of control believe that events result primarily from their own behaviour and actions.

Those with a high internal locus of control (shown by a low score) have better control of their behaviour and tend to exhibit more political behaviours than externals (the high scorers) and are more likely to attempt to influence other people; they are more likely to assume that their efforts will be successful. They are more active in seeking information and knowledge concerning their situation than do externals. The propensity to engage in political behaviour is stronger for individuals who have a low score and high internal locus of control than for those who have a high score and high external locus of control.


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