Locus of Control

Lit matchesThe locus of control is a framework for understanding people’s perception of the controlling factors in their lives. People may have an internal locus of control or an external locus of control. Few people have a purely internal or external locus of control, and people may vacillate between attributing their circumstances and reactions to external and internal factors.

Internal Locus of Control
People with an internal locus of control tend to believe that they control their own reactions and emotional states. An emotional reaction is the product of internal processes. For example, a person with an internal locus of control might view his struggles with anger management as a result of an undeveloped ability to control his emotions and react appropriately.

External Locus of Control
People with an external locus of control tend to view their lives, emotions, and perceptions as circumstance-dependent. In this framework, reactions are dependent upon what is going on around the person rather than what is going on inside of the person. For example, a person who struggles with anger management and believes she has an external locus of control might blame her difficulty controlling her reactions on her spouse’s nagging, her bullying boss, financial pressures, or other external factors.

Role in Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy, almost by definition, helps people to better regulate their internal processing and focus on developing a stronger internal locus of control. Highly resilient people tend to be better able to regulate their emotions even in the face of external stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular focuses on helping people to reframe their thoughts and perceptions to external events. Even in instances of conditions spurred by external events, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, therapists and counselors frequently focus on helping clients reframe their thoughts to regain control over their own reactions and lives.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.

Last Updated: 08-11-2015

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  • Gabriel

    January 21st, 2017 at 5:32 PM

    I’ve been fascinated by internal and external locus of control ever since I earned about it in one of my first marketing classes. Thanks for a great post.

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