<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
A box is labeled “Locus of Control.” An arrow points to the left from this box to another labeled “Internal” containing “I am in control of outcomes: belief that one’s effort and decisions determine outcomes.” Another arrow points to the right from the “Locus of Control” box to another box labeled “External” containing “Outcomes are beyond my control: belief that luck, fate, and other people determine outcomes.”
Locus of control occurs on a continuum from internal to external.

Walter mischel and the person-situation debate

Walter Mischel was a student of Julian Rotter and taught for years at Stanford, where he was a colleague of Albert Bandura. Mischel surveyed several decades of empirical psychological literature regarding trait prediction of behavior, and his conclusion shook the foundations of personality psychology. Mischel found that the data did not support the central principle of the field—that a person’s personality traits are consistent across situations. His report triggered a decades-long period of self-examination, known as the person-situation debate, among personality psychologists.

Mischel suggested that perhaps we were looking for consistency in the wrong places. He found that although behavior was inconsistent across different situations, it was much more consistent within situations—so that a person’s behavior in one situation would likely be repeated in a similar one. And as you will see next regarding his famous “marshmallow test,” Mischel also found that behavior is consistent in equivalent situations across time.

One of Mischel’s most notable contributions to personality psychology was his ideas on self-regulation. According to Lecci&Magnavita (2013), “Self-regulation is the process of identifying a goal or set of goals and, in pursuing these goals, using both internal (e.g., thoughts and affect) and external (e.g., responses of anything or anyone in the environment) feedback to maximize goal attainment” (p. 6.3). Self-regulation is also known as will power. When we talk about will power, we tend to think of it as the ability to delay gratification. For example, Bettina’s teenage daughter made strawberry cupcakes, and they looked delicious. However, Bettina forfeited the pleasure of eating one, because she is training for a 5K race and wants to be fit and do well in the race. Would you be able to resist getting a small reward now in order to get a larger reward later? This is the question Mischel investigated in his now-classic marshmallow test.

Mischel designed a study to assess self-regulation in young children. In the marshmallow study, Mischel and his colleagues placed a preschool child in a room with one marshmallow on the table. The child was told that he could either eat the marshmallow now, or wait until the researcher returned to the room and then he could have two marshmallows (Mischel, Ebbesen&Raskoff, 1972). This was repeated with hundreds of preschoolers. What Mischel and his team found was that young children differ in their degree of self-control. Mischel and his colleagues continued to follow this group of preschoolers through high school, and what do you think they discovered? The children who had more self-control in preschool (the ones who waited for the bigger reward) were more successful in high school. They had higher SAT scores, had positive peer relationships, and were less likely to have substance abuse issues; as adults, they also had more stable marriages (Mischel, Shoda,&Rodriguez, 1989; Mischel et al., 2010). On the other hand, those children who had poor self-control in preschool (the ones who grabbed the one marshmallow) were not as successful in high school, and they were found to have academic and behavioral problems.

Today, the debate is mostly resolved, and most psychologists consider both the situation and personal factors in understanding behavior. For Mischel (1993), people are situation processors. The children in the marshmallow test each processed, or interpreted, the rewards structure of that situation in their own way. Mischel’s approach to personality stresses the importance of both the situation and the way the person perceives the situation. Instead of behavior being determined by the situation, people use cognitive processes to interpret the situation and then behave in accordance with that interpretation.


Behavioral theorists view personality as significantly shaped and impacted by the reinforcements and consequences outside of the organism. People behave in a consistent manner based on prior learning. B. F. Skinner, a prominent behaviorist, said that we demonstrate consistent behavior patterns, because we have developed certain response tendencies. Mischel focused on how personal goals play a role in the self-regulation process. Albert Bandura said that one’s environment can determine behavior, but at the same time, people can influence the environment with both their thoughts and behaviors, which is known as reciprocal determinism. Bandura also emphasized how we learn from watching others. He felt that this type of learning also plays a part in the development of our personality. Bandura discussed the concept of self-efficacy, which is our level of confidence in our own abilities. Finally, Rotter proposed the concept of locus of control, which refers to our beliefs about the power we have over our lives. He said that people fall along a continuum between a purely internal and a purely external locus of control.

Personal application questions

Do you have an internal or an external locus of control? Provide examples to support your answer.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Questions & Answers

learning is facilitated by
Quitta Reply
What is Repression?
Sharmin Reply
Repression, In psychoanalytic theory, the exclusion of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings from the conscious mind. Often involving sexual or aggressive urges or painful childhood memories, these unwanted mental contents are pushed into the unconscious mind.
in psychoanalytic terms a basic defense mechanism that shuts out anxiety arousing thoghts feelings and memories from one consciousness
Repression is holding something painful inside because you're afraid to let it out for fear of what trouble it might csuse
It helps students to understand the behavior of people they encounter.
Anjonette Reply
what are the types of learning?
Ogbeyemi Reply
auditory, visual, kinesthetic, reading/writing
thanks @Frederick. But I still want to understand something. Classical conditioning, Operants conditioning and Observational learning are not types of learning?
I believe there are several types of learning besides just the four I mentioned.
so, I can also say those I mentioned are part of learning?
i would say so
Operant conditioning is a type of associative learning process through which the strength of a behavior is modified by reinforcement or punishment.
what is psychology
Mukoone Reply
in simple explanation, it is the study and understanding of the human behavior
the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context.
the scientific study of human mind and behaviour
but I thought psychology is not limited to humans. I think it is the scientific study of behavior and mental process of organisms
what happened to my reply?
the study of human behavior, the reasons for the behavior, and ways to change the undesirable behaviors into desirable behaviors
psychology is the study of the soul or mind of man through scientific studies relating to environmental factors and human behaviours.
not only man but animals as well
psychology is the study of the mind and behaviors*
the definition you gave Audley is incorrect
Hey Audley, also humans are animals, so the correct way to say it is.. Not only man but other animals as well. 👍🏽
Audley, you are both correct in the definition of psychology. Yours was textually from the book, while the other was simple and to the heart of it where a novice would understand.
Emely, you stated that man is a animal as well. Explain?
_____are the memory images that are related to particular place ,date and time .
Raghav Reply
what is psychology
Ayado Reply
can join your discussions
he or she can
I have been wondering of minor Autism I have estrange daughter that has I have been divorced and things like the ex wife sister told bad things about Me, Which I was not there to defend my self was said. one part) the other is the ex wife mom took care of her and never gave her kind of up bringing
Much and now she is 28 has a pension cause of her Autism she has everyone like her 2brothers her mom and her father had said to go on andfor-get the past she had not wanting to only seen her once I tried to make contact online she does not my contact from G circle
too bad
what is rootology
Glory Reply
Rootology is a blend of 13 concentrated herbal extracts that support against sneezing, congestion, sinus pressure, runny nose, itchy watery eyes, and headache.
a child playing with the friend without complaining is called
Valerie Reply
free child
psycosocial development
playful & sporty child
The scope of Experimental Psychology is widening with the invention of new tools and instruments for experiments.
Den Reply
like what kind?
hello, what kind of people talk throught here
Marcela Reply
the kind looking for answers
thought is autonomous. it is up to us compartmentalizing these random various thoughts that we too often incorrectly give them the title of (ideas)
what is the scope of experimental psychology?
who is pavlo
he believed in classic conditioning
he created classical conditioning
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was a Russian physiologist known primarily for his work in classical conditioning.
he developed the theory is classical conditioning on a dog
Hello... Gyatri, angel and thinker.. I am MJ.
Mujtaba Reply
How are you...?
Where are you from?
hi everyone 😊
I'm not trying to be a killjoy but I don't think this is a conversation thread for meeting new people.
there are plenty of apps for that
@Aspen German well you're right there are other apps that offers ways into meeting new people. however I don't see anything wrong in here? just saying hi and hello.
but if they turn it into something like a "dating app" then for me that's another story. just saying. 😊.
hello Everyone
Hello Luis, this app is for friends to everyone. 😊🙏
Anyone having problem can leave
is this a Psychology Course GC?
Hi I'm from Philippines 🇵🇭
Can anyone.... What is basic criteria for abnormalities...?
Is here any psychologist or psychiatrist.
hi Jeanica yes I know that 😊
yes psychologist I am
me too
Can you please explain me Diathesis stress model and its application
And how can it applied..
What is randomization
Joseph Reply
definition of stimulus
Thomas Reply
an idea, object or effect via the help of a mediational process which elicits a response

Get the best Psychology course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, Psychology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 03, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11629/1.5
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Psychology' conversation and receive update notifications?