While conducting research, Julian Rotter was supervising the clinical training of E. Jerry Phares, a psychotherapist. Phares told Rotter about his patient who complained about his poor social life. Phares encouraged the man to attend a college dance. Although several women danced with him, that success did not change the man’s dismal outlook about his social skills. The patient said that it was just lucky and it would never happen again. After hearing about Phares’ patient, Rotter realized that some people’s expectations never go up even after success. He then hypothesized that some people feel what happens to them is governed by external forces: other people, fate or luck (external locus of control), while others feel what happens to them is governed largely by their own efforts and skills (internal locus of control) (Theories of Personality).
Locus of control is a personality trait that affects how a person views life. People who have an internal locus of control believe that the reinforcements (rewards and punishments) they receive are because of the choices they make. On the other hand, people who have an external locus of control believe that reinforcements they receive are because of outside forces (other people, fate or luck). Those with an external locus of control think that their behaviors and abilities do not affect the rewards and punishments they receive. People with an internal locus of control are less susceptible to attempts to influence them, place a higher value on their skills, are more alert to environmental cues, report lower anxiety and higher self-esteem, are more responsible for their actions, and enjoy greater mental and physical health (Theories of Personality).
According to Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach for America, the most predictive trait of successful teachers is perseverance, also called internal locus of control. She says “People who in the context of a challenge — you can’t see it unless you’re in the context of a challenge — have the instinct to figure out what they can control, and to own it, rather than to blame everyone else in the system.” Kopp wants to hire people who have the “mind-set and the instinct to remain optimistic in the face of a challenge” (Charisma? To Her, It’s Overrated).