Internal and External Control of Reinforcement

At the core of Rotter s social learning theory is the notion that reinforcement does not automatically stamp hi behaviors but that people have the ability to see a causal connection between then own behavior and the occurrence of the reinforcer (Rotter, 1954; Rotter & Hoclireich, 1975). People strive to reach then goals because they have a generalized expectancy that such strivings will be successful.

Dining the 1950s and early 1960s, Rotter became intrigued by the observation that many people did not increase their feelings of personal control after experiencing success and that others did not lower then expectancies after repeated failure (Rotter, 1990, 1993; Zuroff & Rotter, 1985). In other words, some people tended to explahi away successful outcomes as behig due to luck or chance, whereas others retained a high sense of personal control even after several nonreinforced behaviors. These tendencies seemed to be especially true hi situations that people regarded as ambiguous or novel (Rotter, 1992) or when people were not clear whether the outcome of then behavior was due to their skill or to chance. Rotter (1990) lias suggested that both the situation and the person contribute to feelings of personal control. Thus, a person with a generalized expectancy for success in one situation may have low feelings of personal control in another situation.

To assess internal and external control of reinforcement, or locus of control, Rotter (1966) developed the Internal-External Control Scale, basmg it on the doctoral dissertations of two of Ins students, E. Jerry Phares (1955) and William H. James (1957). The I-E Scale consists of 29 forced-choice items, 23 pahs of which are scored and 6 of which are filler statements designed to disguise the purpose of the scale. The scale is scored hi the direction of external control so that 23 is the highest possible external score and 0 is the highest possible internal score. Table 17.1 shows several sample items from the I-E Scale. People must select either alternative "a" or alternative "b" from each pair of items. Although the internal or external direction of these items may seem obvious, Rotter (1990) reported that scores have only a modest correlation with a social deshability scale.

The I-E Scale attempts to measure the degree to which people perceive a causal relationship between their own efforts and environmental consequences. People who score high on internal control generally believe that the source of control resides within themselves and that they exercise a high level of personal control in most situations. People who score high on external control generally believe that then life is largely controlled by forces outside themselves, such as chance, desthiy, or the behavior of other people. At the beginning of this chapter, we asked you to check either "a" or "b" for six items that might assess internal or external locus of control. Marking "b" for all tunes except Number 2 might hidicate internal locus of

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Anxiety and Depression 101

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