In And Out Of Control

6 12 2011

Every time I teach my MBA Marketing Seminar course, I have students take a short survey I call the Survey of Personal Perceptions. The title is mine…I made it up to disguise the intent and source. But that does not diminish its value.

Actually students completed the time-honored Locus of Control instrument developed by Julian Rotter (1966). And lest anyone be concerned about my violating an IRB protocols, let me explain that I do not use the LoC fur research purposes, nor do I ever look at anyone’s score. It is strictly for the benefit of students to find out a little more about themselves.

And for anyone wanting to see what Rotter’s original 29-item scale looks like, click here (there are 6 “dummy” items in the original that are not scored). The LoC produces a score between 0 and 23, a continuum ranging from high internal locus of control (0) to high external locus of control (23). There are no “correct” answers, only indicators of what you perceive to be true. alternate version of the scale (with 180-degree opposite scoring) is available here, along with excellent interpretations of results.

Basically, Rotter said that at the personal level, we vary in our perception of how much control we have over the events that shape our lives. A high internal LoC knows with absolute certainty that s/he makes his/her own luck, and is fully responsible for all consequences. A high external LoC, on the other hand, believes that much (if not all) of what happens is beyond their control, and either the result of luck or other people controlling him/her. (Click here for an excellent discourse on interpreting the LoC score.)

Absolute 0s and 23s are not common (although I confess to scoring a 0). What I have noticed through the years is that in the field of Business, most students score between 0 and 8. Scores above 12 are very rare. Maybe this says something about the nature of students who select a Business degree. I tend to agree. It takes decisive people to run businesses (as owners or employees).

Many semesters ago, I actually did use the LoC in research, and compared students in campus vs. online courses. I found that online students tended to have lower LoC scores. This is a very desirable, and probably necessary, trait for online learners, simply because the format requires students to stay extremely focused and be self-starters.

Basically, if your score leans toward internal LoC, you are in varying degrees of control of your destiny. If your score leans toward external LoC, you are other-controlled. Those on the extremes (he says as he looks in the mirror) need to be cognizant that there can be frustrations along the way. For example, a “perfect” internal LoC must be aware that s/he cannot be a control freak and expect to keep friends. Furthermore, s/he must acknowledge that, no matter how hard they (I) try to control their (my) destiny, there is always going to be some manner of luck involved. The bumper sticker philosophy is indeed correct. Shit happens. As for me, I have learned to accept those realities, and live my life merrily controlling me and hopefully no one else. Just don’t try to control me!

I would love to use the LoC instrument on a lot of different citizen groups. I suspect that some extremely conservative religious followers (regardless of the faith) tend toward external LoC. I would also not be surprised to find a lot of externals among the most strident OWS protesters (that whole 1% argument speaks volumes to me). I also suspect that LoC scores are lower overall today than they were a few generations ago.

As for how LoC might manifest itself in our buying ways, I also suspect that high internals are more cautious and decisive in their purchases, looking before they leap (especially with regard to credit). And even if they do “live dangerously,” they do so knowing there may be consequences…and they alone are responsible for their actions.

As my students review their scores from the beginning of the semester, I hope that they do realize there is no judgment being passed, and, as I said above, there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. There are only your answers. Figure out who you are, and what it means. And then try to live happily with that knowledge.

Dr “0 to 23” Gerlich



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