Researchers has found a link between the “locus of control” (LoC) in adolescents and their use of tobacco and alcohol

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A team of researchers from the University of Bristol and AstraZeneca has found what they describe as a link between the “locus of control” (LoC) in adolescents and their use of tobacco and alcohol.


Locus of control

In personality psychology, locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces beyond their control.

Understanding of the concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, and has since become an aspect of personality studies.

A person’s “locus” (plural “loci”, Latin for “place” or “location”) is conceptualized as internal (a belief that one can control one’s own life) or external (a belief that life is controlled by outside factors which the person cannot influence, or that chance or fate controls their lives).

Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their life derive primarily from their own actions: for example, when receiving exam results, people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves and their abilities.

People with a strong external locus of control tend to praise or blame external factors such as the teacher or the exam.

Locus of control generated much research in a variety of areas in psychology.

The construct is applicable to such fields as educational psychology, health psychology and clinical psychology.

Debate continues whether specific or more global measures of locus of control will prove to be more useful in practical application.

Careful distinctions should also be made between locus of control (a concept linked with expectancies about the future) and attributional style (a concept linked with explanations for past outcomes), or between locus of control and concepts such as self-efficacy.

Locus of control is one of the four dimensions of core self-evaluations – one’s fundamental appraisal of oneself – along with neuroticism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem.

The concept of core self-evaluations was first examined by Judge, Locke, and Durham (1997), and since has proven to have the ability to predict several work outcomes, specifically, job satisfaction and job performance.

In a follow-up study, Judge et al. (2002) argued that locus of control, neuroticism, self-efficacy and self-esteem factors may have a common core.


In their paper published in Royal Society Open Science, the group describes their study of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and what they found.

LoC is described by psychologists as a perception or world view by an individual -those who see themselves as mostly at the whim of others are said to have an external LoC.

Those who see themselves as being more in control of what happens to them, on the other hand, are described as having an internal LoC.

In this new effort, the researchers sought to learn more about the role LoC might play in adolescent children choosing to smoke tobacco products and/or drink alcohol-based beverages.

The study by the team consisted of accessing data obtained from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children – also known as Children of the ’90s – an ongoing study conducted by the University of Bristol that involves gathering data, first from 15,247 pregnant women in the early 1990s, and then from their family members, including their children, as time passes.

Part of the data contains information from interviews and questionnaires filled out by the children that were born to the initial women who moved through the various stages of their lives—most are now in their mid to late 20s.

The researchers studied the data from the offspring, focusing on the parts that revealed information about their LoC and then compared what they found with their tobacco and alcohol use.

They report that they found a connection – those children with an external LoC were found to be more likely to take up smoking cigarettes and to become addicted as they grew older.

They found similar results for children at age 17 using alcohol in hazardous ways, but not as they grew older.

The researchers suggest their findings might serve as a signal for parents, letting them know that their children are more at risk of tobacco and alcohol abuse if they have an external LoC.

More information: G. Lassi et al. Locus of control is associated with tobacco and alcohol consumption in young adults of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, Royal Society Open Science(2019). DOI: 10.1098/rsos.181133

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