Those with an external locus of control believe external variables or factors are to blame for what happens to them. Locus of control refers to one’s perception of the drivers of certain events in their life.
Understanding an external locus of control
Unlike those with an internal locus of control who believe they control their destiny, individuals with an external locus of control believe their destiny is in the hands of some other factor or variable.
In other words, they perceive that the events in their life are outside their control.
When an individual perceives that an external factor is in control, they are more likely to associate outcomes with luck, happenstance, religion, or some predetermined destiny.
This perception causes the individual to stop exhibiting certain behaviors – no matter how beneficial they may be – because of this belief that their actions have no impact on their life.
External locus of control characteristics
Some of the characteristics of those with an external locus of control include:
- Feeling powerless or without hope during difficult situations.
- The tendency to attribute any life successes to luck.
- The tendency to avoid setting goals or making plans with the view that external factors will inevitably upset them.
- Passivity. That is, they sit back and expect beneficial opportunities to present themselves on a silver platter.
- A compulsion to believe in conspiracy theories that explain why something happens a certain way. This can also manifest as paranoia.
- The belief that talents or skills cannot be developed over time. This is otherwise known as a fixed mindset.
Impacts of an external locus of control
An external locus of control can be useful in limited scenarios.
For example, employees with this mindset are less likely to be impacted by an abusive superior because they recognize that the manager’s personality is beyond their sphere of influence.
Nevertheless, this mindset is generally seen as less desirable when compared to an internal locus of control. To explain why this is so, consider how an external locus of control relates to other psychological theories.
Social psychologist Albert Bandura proposed the idea of self-efficacy in 2010 as a measure of how capable one feels in their ability to achieve their goals.
Those with an external locus of control – no matter how talented – believe they are not capable of succeeding. In effect, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they avoid taking the steps necessary to realizing a desirable future state.
Locus of control and how it relates to personality has been studied extensively in the context of work satisfaction and health outcomes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, studies have shown that an external locus of control is associated with elevated stress levels, anxiety, and even depression.
These mental states arise from learned helplessness. Here, the individual experiences repeated failures or challenges in work or health contexts and mistakenly believes that no action of theirs will result in positive outcomes.
- Those with an external locus of control believe external variables or factors are to blame for what happens to them.
- Some of the characteristics of those with an external locus of control include a tendency to feel powerless or hopeless in difficult situations, the avoidance of making plans or setting goals, and a belief that one cannot improve one’s talents or abilities over time.
- An external locus of control is likely to be undesirable in most circumstances, but it can be useful in situations where the individual is subject to the harmful behavior or actions of others.
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