This article was submitted by Winifred Asare-Doku, a PhD student in Psychiatry.


Julian Rotter propounded the Social Behavior Learning Theory in psychology, and his central ‘locus of control’ concept is concerned with how we tend to assign causation for the events in our life. As things happen from moment to moment, your locus of control identifies and describes who or what you think is responsible. People’s locus of control is largely either internal or external.

In Psychology, we study how individuals grow to perceive ‘reinforcing events’ as either being within or beyond their control. ‘Reinforcing events’ (or simply, ‘reinforcers’) refers to anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur. This increasing likelihood is talked about in terms of the behavior being ‘strengthened’.


Do you tend to accept your role in the outcome of events…or deny all responsibility?

According to Rotter, internally oriented people tend to believe that reinforcing events are subject to their own control, and that these events occur as a result of the implementation of their skills. They are more focused on tasks, and are competent, efficient, assertive, persistent and cognitively active in learning the rules necessary for problem solving.  Research indicates that internals do not only take responsibility for their own actions but also assume that others are responsible for theirs. They attribute their failures internally, and perceive them as having occurred due to a lack of ability or effort.

Thus when they suffer defeat, internals can experience more shame and guilt than externals. Since internals tend to attribute outcomes of events to themselves, a student with a strong internal locus of control may believe that their grades were achieved through their own abilities and effort. They experience more pride in their achievements. Internals are better able to cope with stress in a variety of situations because they see themselves as being more in control.


“Internalizers attribute their failures internally, and perceive them
as having occurred due to a lack of ability or effort.”


In contrast, externally oriented people see little or no connection between their behavior and various reinforcers. They perceive the occurrence of the reinforcing event as determined primarily by fate, luck or powerful others. Thus they never take charge since they see everything as being outside of their control. Due to this perception of lack of control, they can be stressed and anxious too. For example, externalizers may believe that their thesis progress or exam results as being due to ‘luck’ or to a professor who designs a bad test or habitually gives bad grades.

They are less likely to expect that their own efforts will result in success and are therefore less likely to work hard for high grades. They devalue their work effort. For instance, after failing a test which they strongly wanted to pass, externals claim that success on the test was not so important. As a result of this, they are more likely to experience emotional distress such as anxiety, depression, and vulnerability to stress. They would also be more likely to have some lifestyle-associated diseases, as they don’t see the need to control their bad habits.


Do you take ownership of your bad grades? Or do you
blame them on teachers who might be treating you unfairly?


Managing your locus of control

The question is: which is better? To be an internalizer and take responsibility or externalizer and shift responsibility? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps there is an argument for both: both perspectives can be managed to bring out the optimum best in a person. Don’t be at the extreme spectrum of either – since both experience some kind of emotional distress. If you take responsibility for your actions and inactions, make sure you take credit for the good decisions and accept blame for the bad decisions. There is always a chance to learn again if things don’t go well. This is better than sidelining yourself and remaining stubborn in your actions and opinions because you think you had nothing to do with a failure.


“There is always a chance to learn again if things don’t go well.”


Life is always about learning, unlearning and re-learning. Internalizers become better at almost everything when they manage their emotions around failure, and move on to do it better. They are more resilient. Emotions form a huge chunk of your life and when you regulate them well, you are able to surge ahead. People should therefore embrace flexibility in situations and attempt to display behaviors that are compatible with an internal or external view, depending on the circumstances. It is unrealistic to try to control all aspects of the environment, and yet it is equally maladaptive to relinquish control in all situations.


Meet Winifred!

My name is Winifred Asare-Doku and I recently enrolled in my PhD in Psychiatry at University of Newcastle. I am from Ghana and I have had all my education in Ghana. Coming to Australia was a big move for me because I was leaving behind all my friends and family, but I was still excited about meeting and making new friends from different parts of the globe. I like Australia and UON is my preferred university because in my opinion, I think the training is rigorous and also career-success driven.

I have met nice people and everyone seems friendly and willing to offer any form of assistance I may need. I have been enjoying shopping at the malls leaving me spoilt for choice! Also, the fact that restaurants are close to where I live makes life easier.  I love the beach too! I have been to Merewether beach and it was hinted to me to visit Nobbys beach which I will hopefully. I also love Hillsong music and was thrilled to find Hillsong Church in Newcastle too. Newcastle is really a beautiful place.


Winifred moved to Newcastle just a few months ago, and we can confirm: it is a beautiful city!


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