The Relationship between Locus of Control and
Perceived Stress Levels
This report will investigate the relationship between locus of control
and professional life stress in people. The aim of this study is to
look at whether they have an internal or external locus of control,
which determines how the individual perceives and copes with
situations and life events, and how stressed they are due to this. It
is theorized that people with a high external locus of control have
of reported stress
. This study examined this theory by
testing this effect on 186 participants. It found that there was a
weak, positive correlation, and the result was not significant.
Originally established within the structure of Rotter’s (1954) social
Locus of Control assesses to what extent each individual perceives a
factor or factors that he or she thinks may be responsible for the
outcome of an event or situation. Different patterns of reinforcement
then lead to differences in belief.
An internal locus of control indicates that the individual’s behaviour
and other life events, whether positive or negative, are determined by
; they are dependent on themselves and their ability
to control or change life events or behaviours.
In contrast, an external locus of control indicates that external
factors, also positive or negative and for which they have no control
over, influence an individual’s behaviour and life events.
People with a high internal locus of control tend to be more highly
motivated, achieving and independent than externals. They strongly
believe that they can control their destiny, which may explain why
they are more dominant.
In comparison, people with a high external locus of control have a
tendency to see themselves as powerless in controlling their own
lives. Therefore, their development of decision-making skills is poor,
because they genuinely believe that the choices they make will not
have much or any influence in the way their life turns out. These
individuals believe that life events are associated with factors such
as luck, chance and fate.
Kobosa (1979) implies that ‘life events are stressful when they are
perceived to be uncontrollable.’ This suggests, therefore, that people
who are able to take control of their own lives, (hence people with an
internal locus of control) tend to be less stressed.
Other research shows that externals are less capable than internals on
a variety of tasks. Kahle (1980) suggests that externals favour tests
of chance over tests of skill, as they believe any experience or
achievement is attributable to luck or chance. It is also evident that
‘externals make lower estimates of success even when success level is
no less than that of internals’ -Benassi et al (1979).
A previous experiment designed to show the relationship between locus
of control, occupational stress and stress symptoms was conducted,
using 189 Hong Kong Chinese professionals. It showed that ‘scores on
the locus of control were associated with occupational stress and
psychological stress symptoms, but were unrelated to reporting of
physical symptoms. While both sexes reported similar occupational
stress, women scored as more external and reported more of both types
Based on existing literature, this current study aims to provide
support to the theory that ‘greater externality will be related to
higher levels of reported stress.’
In this experiment, there were 186 participants in total; 94 males and
92 females, with an age range of 19-72, a mean age of 36.83 (37) and a
standard deviation of 10.83.
Selection of participants was a random sample, as long as they fitted
the criteria of being adults in professional jobs.
The stimulus used was two questionnaires for each participant taking
part. The first questionnaire was the Professional Life Stress Scale
(PLSS), and the second was the Locus of Control Scale (LoCS). Examples
of both can be found within the appendix.
This study was a within-subjects design, so all participants completed
both the Locus of Control and Professional Life Stress questionnaires,
which were dependent variables. The design of this study was also
correlational, as the aim was to find a correlation between locus of
control and stress.
Participants were asked to fill out two questionnaires. It was
explained to them that the reason they were required to do so was that
a study was being conducted to find out why some people feel more
stress than others do. Before agreeing to fill out the questionnaires,
all participants were reminded of their rights to withdraw from the
experiment at any time, and any information supplied by them was in
the strict confidentiality. They were required to complete both
questionnaires fully, and in order to provide accurate results for the
study, the participants were advised to go with their first responses
to the questions. Brief, written instructions were also present at the
beginning of each questionnaire (see Appendix). The questionnaires
were completed in up to fifteen minutes. When the questionnaires were
completed, participants were then de-briefed, with an explanation of
the purpose and expected findings of the study itself. Data also
collected from the participants was their age, gender, and occupation.
The data collected from both questionnaires was then coded by the
experimenter and analysed statistically.
The mean score for the Locus of Control Scale was 63.4, and the
standard deviation was 13.17. The mean score for the Professional Life
Stress Scale was 19.4 and the standard deviation was 10.23.
The experimenter using a guide to score both questionnaires calculated
the total scores from the data collected. In the Locus of Control
Scale, a low score (minimum 20) indicates internal locus of control,
while a high score (maximum 20) indicates external locus of control.
In the Professional Life Stress Scale, a high score represents a high
level of stress and a low score (minimum 0) indicates a low level of
The relationship between the Locus of Control and Professional Life
Stress was analyzed using Pearson’s correlation. There was a positive
correlation; however it was weak and the results were not significant.
This is displayed in Figure 1. Consequently, the results do not
support the hypothesis.
Figure 1 : Figure 1 shows the correlation between Stress and Locus of
Control in mid-management professionals.
Participants required for this study had to fit the criteria of adults
in professional jobs, as the whole study was designed to investigate
the relationship between stress and locus of control, and stress is
more evident in people in mid-management professions.
This study found that although there was a positive relationship
between locus of control and stress, the correlation between the two
was very weak and not significant. However, these results are not
consistent within existing literature; therefore it shows that the
results for this particular study were not very reliable. For that
reason, the results from this study cannot be generalized to other
studies within this context.
In completion, this experiment found that there were a number of
problems. The questions presented in the questionnaire were one of the
major problems. Some questions were ambiguous- this made it hard for
the participants to answer. For example, Question 4 says ‘Do you enjoy
watching sport?’ and the options to answer from are ‘a) No, b) Yes.’
(See Appendix.) Some participants found this hard to answer as they
did enjoy watching sport sometimes, other times they did not, so they
had trouble in deciding which answer to tick. This could have affected
the results, because the answers from the participants were not
accurate. If this ambiguity was prevented, the results would possibly
be different and maybe prove the hypothesis truthful. The layout of
the questionnaire was also poor.
Another problem was that the answers to the questions in the
questionnaires had possibly not been scored or coded correctly. Human
error could be contributory to this problem, and to prevent this in
the future, this experiment could be set up on a computer and
automatically scored once the participants supplied the answers onto
For future research and transference of this experiment, if all
problems were taken into consideration and corrected, then the actual
conduction would be more effective for the participants and the
experimenter. The by-product would therefore generate more reliable,
non-biased results, which would make them more effective and useful.
Hamid PN, Chan WT, (1998) Feb; 82(1):75-9.
Psychol Rep.: Locus of control and occupational stress in Chinese
Revicki, D.A. and May, H.J. Occupational stress, social support, and
depression. Health Psychology, 4 (1), 61-77. 1985 via George Wise,
Missouri Extension Child and Family Development Specialist, July 1985.
For the following questions, please tick the answers you feel apply
most to you.
1. Two people who know you well are discussing you. Which of the
following statements would they be most likely to use?
(a) “X is very together. Nothing much seems to bother him/her.”
(b) “X is great. But you have to be careful what you say to him/her at
(c) “Something always seems to be going wrong with X’s life.”
(d) “I find X very moody and unpredictable.”
(e) “The less I see of X, the better.”
2. Are any of the following common features of your life?
· Feelings you can seldom do anything right
· Feelings of being hounded or trapped or cornered
· Poor appetite
· Difficulty in getting to sleep at night
· Dizzy spells or palpitations
· Sweating without exertion or high air temperature
· Panic feelings when in crowds or in confined spaces
· Tiredness and lack of energy
· Feelings of hopelessness (“what’s the use of anything?”)
· Faintness or nausea sensations without any physical cause
· Extreme irritation over small things
· Inability to unwind in the evenings
· Waking regularly at night or early in the mornings
· Difficulty in taking decisions
· Inability to stop thinking about problems or the day’s events
· Convictions that you just can’t cope
· Lack of enthusiasm even for cherished interests
· Reluctance to meet new people and attempt new experiences
· Inability to say “no” when asked to do something
· Having more responsibility than you can handle
3. Are you more or less optimistic than you used to be? a) more b)
less c) about the same
4. Do you enjoy watching sport? a) No b) Yes
5. Can you get up late at weekends if you want without feeling guilty?
a) No b) Yes
6. Within reasonably professional and personal limits, can you speak
your mind to: a) your boss? b) your colleagues? c) members of your
7. Who usually seems to be responsible for making the important
decisions in your life: a) yourself? b) someone else?
8. When criticized by superiors at work, are you usually: a) very
upset? b) moderately upset? c) mildly upset?
9. Do you finish the working day feelings satisfied with what you have
achieved: a) often? b) sometimes? c) only occasionally?
10. Do you feel most of the time that you have unsettled conflicts
with colleagues? a) No b) Yes
11. Does the amount of work you have to do exceed the amount of time
available: a) habitually? b) sometimes? c) only very occasionally?
12. Have you a clear picture of what is expected of you
professionally: a) mostly? b) sometimes? c) hardly ever?
13. Would you say that generally you have enough time for yourself? a)
No b) Yes
14. If you want to discuss your problems with someone, can you usually
find a sympathetic ear? a) No b) Yes
15. Are you reasonably on course towards achieving your major
objectives in life? a) No b) Yes
16. Are you bored at work? a) often? b) sometimes? c) very rarely?
17. Do you look forward to going into work: a) most days? b) some
days? c) hardly ever?
18. Do you feel adequately valued for your abilities and commitment to
work? a) No b) Yes
19. Do you feel adequately rewarded (in terms of status and promotion)
for your abilities and commitment to work? a) No b) Yes
20. Do you feel your superiors actively hinder you in your work? a) No
21. If ten years ago you had been able to see yourself professionally
as you are now, would you have seen yourself as: a) exceeding your
expectations? b) fulfilling your expectations c) falling short of your
22. If you had to rate how much you like yourself on a scale from 5
(most like) to 1 (least like), what would your rating be?
Here are some statements that people have made about their attitude to
life. Try to decide how far you agree or disagree with each statement.
Agree very much
Disagree very much
1. Sometimes I feel that I don’t have enough control over the
direction my life is taking.
2. By taking an active part in political and social affairs, people
can control world events.
3. It is impossible for me to believe that chance or luck plays an
important role in my life.
4. Many times, I feel that I have little influence over the things
that happen to me.
5. Getting people to do the right things depends on ability; luck has
little or nothing to do with it.
6. Unfortunately, an individual’s worth often passes unrecognised no
matter how hard he tries.
7. Capable people who fail to become leaders have not taken advantage
of their opportunities.
8. This world is run by a few people in power, and there is not much
the little guy can do about it.
9. What happens to me is my own doing.
10. Most people don’t realise the extent to which their lives are
controlled by accidental events.
11. People’s misfortunes result from the mistakes that they have made.
12. There is really no such thing as ‘luck’.
13. The average citizen can have an influence on government decisions.
14. In the long run people get the respect they deserve in the world.
15. In my case getting what I want has little or nothing to do with
16. With enough effort, we can wipe out political corruption.
17. Who gets to be the boss often depends on who was lucky enough to
be in the right place first.
18. Many of the unhappy things in people’s lives are partly down to
19. It is difficult for people to have much control over the things
politicians do in office.
20. People are lonely because they don’t try to be friendly.