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A Study to Explore 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. This study looks 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 higher levels 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.

Introduction. Originally established within the structure of Rotter’s (1954) social learning theory, Locus of Control assesses to what extent each individual perceives a factor or factors that they think 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 internal factors; they are dependent on themselves and their ability to control or change life events or behaviours.

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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. In addition, they firmly 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 tend 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 on 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 perceived as uncontrollable.’ This suggests, therefore, that people who can 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. For example, Kahle (1980) suggests that externals favour tests of chance over skill tests, 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 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 unrelated to reporting physical symptoms. Furthermore, while both sexes reported similar occupational stress, women scored as more external and reported more of both types of symptoms.’ Based on existing literature, this current study aims to support the theory that ‘greater externality will be related to higher levels of reported stress.’

Method. Participants. In this experiment, there were 186 participants in total; 94 males and 92 females, with an age range of 19-72, mean age of 36.83 (37) and a standard deviation of 10.83. The selection of participants was a random sample, as long as they fit the criteria of being adults in professional jobs. Materials/ stimulus. 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 in the appendix.

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Design. 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.

Procedure. Participants were asked to fill out two questionnaires. It was explained to them that they were required to do so because 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 strict confidentiality. However, they were required to complete both questionnaires fully, and 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 debriefed, explaining 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 were then coded by the experimenter and analyzed statistically.

Results. 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 an internal locus of control, while a high score (maximum 20) indicates an 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 stress. 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.

Discussion. 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 the computer.

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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 professionals
  • 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.

Appendix. Questionnaires. Questionnaire 1. 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 times.”

(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
  • Indigestion
  • 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
  • Tearfulness
  • 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 family?

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 feeling 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

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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 to 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 b) Yes

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 expectations?

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?

Questionnaire 2

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

Agree somewhat

Agree slightly

Disagree slightly

Disagree somewhat

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 unrecognized 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 realize 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 luck.

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 bad luck.

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.

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A Study to Explore the Relationship between Locus of Control and Perceived Stress Levels. (2021, Sep 26). Retrieved May 27, 2022, from