The Journal of Human Resources, 1984, 19 (4), 580-581.



University of New South Wales

Buchele [1] uses the National Longitudinal Survey (NLS) in an attempt to integrate psychological (attitudinal) variables into economic predictions. He draws on the Rotter [4] locus of control scale in the NLS to measure beliefs about the efficacy of personal initiative.

Since the NLS began in the late 1960s, however, considerable dissatisfaction with the Rotter scale has become evident among psychometricians -- as is shown by the proliferation of alternative instruments (e.g., [2]). The forced-choice format of the Rotter scale is a particular problem. It precludes one from testing whether the supposedly "opposite" choices are in fact perceived by respondents as opposite. Gatz and Good [3] have shown that the supposedly "external" and "internal" choices of the Rotter scale are not responded to oppositely at all when respondents are given the choice of doing so. When respondents are given the chance to describe both alternatives as applicable to themselves, many do. The so-called "internal" and "external" choices were in fact uncorrelated. This is a most fundamental validity defect and indicates that the Rotter scale is not measuring what it purports to measure. The locus of control scores might then as well have been replaced by random numbers for all the meaningfulness or interpretability they have. In turn, this means that Buchele's admittedly small estimates of the effects of occupational status and change in earnings on locus of control could very well be spurious, thus casting doubt on his central conclusion.


1. Robert Buchele. "Economic Achievement and the Power of Positive Thinking." Journal of Human Resources 18 (Summer 1983): 441-49.

2. B. E. Collins. "Four Components of the Rotter Internal-External Scale." Journal of Personnel and Social Psychology 29 (1974): 381-91. Communication 1 581

3. M. Gatz and P. R. Good. "An Analysis of the Effects of the Forced-Choice Format of Rotter's Internal-External Scale." Journal of Clinical Psychology 34 (1978): 381-85.

4. J. B. Rotter. "Generalized Expectancies for Internal Versus External Control of Reinforcement." Psychological Monographs 80, No. 609 (1966).


Other articles relevant to locus of control and its measurement are given below. Note the point that what Rotter grandly calls "external locus of control" seems to be more frankly described as "belief in luck".


Ray, J.J. (1980) Belief in luck and locus of control. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 299-300.

Ray, J.J. (1982) A cluster analytic exploration of what underlies popular social science constructs. Journal of Social Psychology, 116, 263-267.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Locus of control as a moderator of the relationship between level of aspiration and achievement motivation. Journal of Social Psychology, 124, 131-133.

Ray, J.J. (Unpublished) FORCED-CHOICE FALLACIES and an alternative measure of sensation-seeking.

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