Attribution Style vs Locus of Control

In this article, we take a look at two similar ideas in Psychology – Attribution Style & Locus of control. We elaborate on the fine details in order to improve our understanding. We further note the key differences in these two concepts & look at the interplay of how these two are inter-related. 

Locus of Control

Represents how much you believe that your efforts (not performance) towards a goal will result in the end result being success or failure

There are three important details to note with respect to the above definition of  Locus of control.

  1. The first is that it is your belief or conviction, which may of may not be actual truth.
  2. The second is the emphasis on effort & not the actual performance. You are believing in your effort, and not in your actual performance, although the performance is typically correlated to your effort.
  3. And the third is the idea of success or failure. The idea of success or failure is also an internalized metric, which is typically not well internalized for most individuals. It is heavily influence by socio-cultural norms. 

Attribution Style

Represents what you believe caused the outcome (success or failure) of any event, including the cause of your behaviour related to the event.

There are three important details to note with respect to the above definition of  Attribution Style.

  1. The first is that this is also based on your belief, and therefore may or may not be grounded in facts.
  2. The second detail is that it is related to any outcome – whether it is a success or a failure.
  3. The third is that it includes your perception towards the cause of your behaviour, i.e. whether you believe your past behaviour is attributed to external circumstances or your own will.

How are these ideas related?

While it is typically professed that an internal Locus of Control is conducive to higher rates of success, I do not subscribe to this generalization. Personally I think a mix of factors decide successful outcomes. I believe both – an internal or external – Locus of Control – may have its advantages / disadvantages depending on situations & context of the individual. The Locus of Control – for an individual may vary depending on context, as well as over a period of time based on their experience.

This diagram, based on the work of Bernard Weiner, represents a better perspective on Locus of Control & Attribution Style. It factors in Stability of response to effort, which establishes expectancy, and that results in an internal Locus of Control. The internal Locus of Control results in persistence towards your goal. The other factor is causality, which is whether the event is actually effected by the effort of the participant.


Self Discovery Questions

  • Outline two of your most memorable failures. Describe the reason for each failure.
  • Outline two of your most memorable successes. Describe the reason for each Success.
  • How can these ideas be used in the area of personal health? How can you use these ideas in your personal relationships?