Discuss the role of locus of control on independent behaviour. (12 marks) Locus of control refers to a person’s perception of personal control over their own behaviour. There are two types of locus of control; internal and external. Internal locus of control occurs when individuals feel they are in control of their behaviour and are responsible for their actions. External locus of control occurs when individuals feel their behaviour is controlled by external forces (e. g. luck or fate) and they are not responsible for their own actions.
Those with internal locus of control are more likely to show independent behaviour and resist the pressures to conform or obey whereas those with external locus of control are more likely to obey and conform. High internals do not rely on the opinions of others. They are better able to resist coercion and are more achievement-orientated. High internal locus of control has been linked to leadership and individuals with high internal locus of control are more likely to become entrepreneurs. Anderson and Schneier found that group members possessing an internal locus of control were more likely to emerge as leaders in their groups.
This may be because individuals who take responsibility for their own actions feel that they can cause changes in their environment, including the behaviour of those around them. There is lots of research evidence to support locus of control. Oliner and Oliner found that people who had gone against the majority and protected the Jews from the Nazis tended to score higher on measures of internal locus of control. This means they believed they had influence over events in their life including success and failures. It may be this that made them independent.
Also, Elms and Milgram found that the people that were disobedient in Milgram’s study of obedience shows higher internal locus of control and social responsibility. Avtigis did a meta-analysis of studies investigating the relationship between locus of control and conformity and found high scores of external locus of control were more likely to conform than those with a low score. The average correlation between locus of control and conformity was 0. 37. This suggests that there are higher rates of conformity shown in external locus of control when compared to internal locus of control.
There are a number of problems with using a meta-analysis. The studies are secondary data that the researcher has compiled. This means the study could suffer from researcher bias as they may have only found studies that supported their view. Also, as the study is correlational, cause and effect cannot be established. It does not comment on why there is a link or which factors were most important it only states that there is a relationship between the two variables. However, as the data is secondary data there are no ethical issues linked to the use of a meta-analysis to study the patterns between locus of control and conformity.
On the other hand, Williams and Warchal gave 30 students a range of conformity tasks based on Asch’s study and assessed them using the Rotter’s locus of control scale. They found that those who conformed were the least assertive but did not score differently on the locus of control scale. This suggests that assertion may be more important in conformity than locus of control. There are also research studies that suggest that independent behaviour can be fostered or encouraged through modelling.
Nemeth and Chiles found that those who had been exposed to a minority (four participants, one confederate) who gave a different answer were more likely to stand their ground and defy the majority in the second part of the experiment when they became a minority (four confederates, one participant). This study implies that exposure to a model of independent behaviour can influence the individual’s ability to stand firm against the majority and resist the group pressure to conform. However, there are problems with research into locus of control.
Many of the studies that support locus of control are carried out in laboratories. This means they lack ecological validity and the results may not be applicable to real life situations. Also, demand characteristics may be present. The participant may have guessed the aim of the experiment and acted accordingly to fit the results they assume the researcher wanted. Also, it is difficult to measure personality. The use of questionnaires could mean that the studies suffer from social desirability bias as people may have altered their answers to appear more normal or to fit with what they assume the researcher wanted.
Lastly, situational factors may be more important as personality is not always consistent. McGuire found that conforming behaviour differed across situations. If conformists and independents are not consistent in their behaviour it is hard to conclude that it is their personality that solely affects their choice whether or not to conform. Situational factors may influence behaviour too as they tend to conform in certain situations but not in others.