A Cross-Cultural Look at How One’s Sense of Control Influences Life Satisfaction & Well-Being

You have a dream: you want to become a famous singer.

You’re driven by an internal locus of control, meaning you believe you control your fate.

So, you take singing lessons, seek out every opportunity to perform, and invest time and money into building your skill.

You believe that if you try, you’ll make it. Destiny is in your hands. You are responsible for your own self-fulfillment.

Now, imagine you have that same dream – to become a famous singer – but you’re driven by an external locus of control; you believe your fate is predetermined. Your destiny is out of your hands and is directed by your environment.

Although you hone your craft as well, you don’t seek out opportunities to achieve your destiny, as you believe it will come to you.

If it’s ordained in the stars, you will be self-fulfilled in time.

Which locus of control do you imagine results in a more positive subjective well-being?

Internal Locus Results

It makes sense that the way you view your own personal control over your life might impact satisfaction and well-being, and various studies confirm this.

According to the study, “Locus of control and subjective well-being – a cross-cultural study”:

“Internal locus of control has been linked with academic success (Gifford, Briceño-Perriott & Mianzo, 2006), higher self-motivation and social maturity (Nelson & Mathias, 1995), lower incidences of stress and depression (Garber & Seligman, 1980), and longer life span (Chipperfield, 1993). Psychological and physical well-being has also been shown to be moderated by perceived control (Brandstadter & Renner, 1990).”

Being that those with an internal locus believe they are the director of their own lives, this sense of control allows them some predictability, as they pursue their goals with the vision that they can achieve a specific outcome through their efforts. They’re optimistic about reaching the end goal and feel a sense of power over their own lives.

This is one reason why those with an internal locus – more often than not from individualist societies – tend to clock more positive results regarding satisfaction and subjective well-being.

However, the internal locus is a double-edged sword. Individualist societies often see higher suicide rates than collectivist societies, which may be a result of unmet ambitions and a lack of communal support.

External Locus Results

Opposite the internal locus, those with an external locus believe they have no control and, thus, there’s no predictability. Their lack of power results in anxiety, a more pessimistic view of their ability to create change, and lower subjective well-being.

A quote from that same study:

“External locus of control is correlated with higher levels of stress (Garber & Seligman, 1980), and Grob (2000) notes that stress is often caused because an individual perceives the situation as beyond his or her coping abilities; with ongoing stress having a negative effect on subjective well-being…It is noted that internals actively manipulate their environments, thus acting to take control of events and to change dissatisfactory conditions (Kulshresta & Sen, 2006). In contrast, externals feel powerless to control their successes or failures (Nielsen, 1987) and, thus, are unable to remove themselves from dissatisfactory situations (Kulshresta & Sen, 2006).”

One way in which those with an external locus – more often than not from collectivist societies – combat this insecurity is to build a strong support system structure.

This is one reason collectivist societies are built upon relationships; so that the support is there when the “environment” takes an individual down a dark road.

Both the internal and external locus are cultivated by culture.

Next week, we’ll talk about the ways in which a culture’s locus of control is illustrated in media and daily life.

Locus of Control: How Region & Gender Influence Your Sense of Control

The degree to which a person believes in destiny is largely formed by their culture.

It can also be influenced by location, gender, ethnicity, and many other factors that impact a person’s primary socialization and conditioning.

Last week, we discussed the role culture plays in the locus of control.

This week, we’ll continue that discussion, fleshing out the roles location and gender have in a person’s sense of control over his/her own life.

Location, Location, Location

In John H. Sims and Duane D. Baumann’s study, “The Tornado Threat: Coping Styles of the North and South,” a survey was taken across two U.S. states: the state of Illinois and the state of Alabama.

The objective of the survey was to identify why these two states reacted differently in preparing for natural disasters, specifically tornadoes.

Alabama often has an alarmingly higher number of fatalities (23 in 2019, for example) than Illinois (0 in 2019).

One factor that may be contributing to that difference in coping with tornadoes is the locus of control.

After surveying four counties, a majority of Alabama residents demonstrated an external locus, while a majority of Illinois residents demonstrated an internal locus.

Considering the locus of control dictates to what degree a person/group feels they have control over their own fate, the line of logic suggests that preparation for natural disasters would differ across these two states according to the group’s collective locus.

More precautions would be taken by Illinois residents whose internal locus of control would make them proactive in reacting to tornado warnings, as they believe they have control over the outcome, while residents of Alabama, with their external locus of control, are more prone to leaving fate up to the whims of nature.

The conclusion, then, is that a region’s collective locus of control can influence the number of fatalities caused by natural disasters – and likely influence many other things related to our sense of control or lack thereof.

Gender

Gender also comes into play in regards to one’s locus of control.

One example of this can be found in M. A. Hamedoglu’s “The Effect of Locus of Control and Culture on Leader Preferences.”

In testing undergraduate students from Western and Eastern cultures, this study found that men are more often of an external locus of control, giving preference to autocratic leadership styles, while women are geared more toward an internal locus of control, preferring democratic leadership styles.

This collective locus regarding gender can impact everything from leadership preference to conflict resolution to one’s sense of accountability.

Next week, we’ll talk about how individuals across cultures try to control their fate, whether their locus of control is external or internal.

The Locus of Control: Do You Believe in Fate?

Late to work?

Missed a deadline?

Passed over for a promotion?

Believe it or not, how you view the circumstances surrounding these outcomes has everything to do with culture.

Are your choices, actions, and performance responsible for the results? Or do fate or environmental factors come into play?

Your locus of control will tell us everything we need to know.

Locus of Control

Developed by psychologist Julian B. Rotter in 1954, the locus of control is the degree to which a person believes they’re in control of their life. Rotter developed four dimensions of fundamental self-evaluation in his personality study, the other three dimensions of which include neuroticism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem.

Setting those three aside for now, the locus (Latin for “place”) is either internal or external.

One with an internal locus of control tends toward feeling in control of the events in his life; one with an external locus tends toward ascribing his life’s path to destiny, fate, or chance.

A person with an external locus believes environmental factors determine the outcome, and nothing he does can change that.

Internal vs. External

“You can walk around softly everywhere by putting on a pair of shoes, or you can demand that the whole Earth become covered by soft leather.”

This Indian proverb illustrates perfectly the locus of control.

Those with an internal locus put on a pair of shoes to make their walk comfortable; those with an external locus believe the environment must change in order to make them more comfortable.

Internal Locus

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” – William Ernest Henley

It may come as no surprise that optimism and ambition are characteristic of those with an internal locus of control.

Being that individuals with an internal locus believe they affect change in their own lives, they have a sense of purpose, because they determine the outcome.

This gives those with an internal locus a sense of responsibility for their successes/failures, happiness/unhappiness, etc.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” is their battle cry. The internal locus believes it can alter its course. In that sense, those with an internal locus hold themselves and others accountable for their actions and the outcomes these actions produce.

External Locus

On the other hand, the battle cry for those with an external locus might be, “Life is what happens to you.”

The external locus drives realistic and fatalistic views of life events.

Life is predestined, written in the stars, for individuals with an external locus, resulting in a sense of limitation when it comes to personal control over one’s future.

This acceptance of limitation suggests that any outcome is at least partly based on one’s own good fortune or luck.

We’ll talk about how all of this comes to a head cross-culturally, both socially and in the workplace, next week.