2013. Vol.4, No.12, 937-939
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 937
The Relationship between Locus of Control and the South African
National Political Environment
Charles H. Van Wi jk
Private Practice, Main Road, Simon’s Town, South Africa
Received September 23rd, 2 013 ; revised October 25th, 2013; accep t e d N o ve mber 27th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Charles H. Van Wijk. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights ©
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Locus of control refers to the prediction of how reinforcements change expectancies. An internal locus of
control was previously reported to be associated with access to political and economic power in “Apart-
heid” South Africa. The democratisation of South Africa gave equal access to political power to all its
citizens. This study set out to investigate whether post-apartheid political changes have altered the way a
group of technical engineers in the public service perceived their own ability to influence their personal
lives and political environment. A total of 297 male participants with a mean age of 30 years, comprising
Black, Mixed-race, and White government employees, completed Rotter’s Internality-Externality Scale.
This was scored using Ferguson’s (1993) two-factor solution, which comprised of a personal and a politi-
cal control factor. The scores of the three race groups were then compared. Results indicated that there
were no significant differences between the groups on the total score and scores on the Personal Control
factor. All participants believed in an equal internal control over their personal lives. However, Black re-
spondents scored more external than the other race groups on the Political Control factor, indicating a
perception of lesser influence over political affairs. The results suggest that the effects of the shift in po-
litical power have not fully filtered down to ordinary citizens yet.
Keywords: Locus of Control; Internality-Externality; Political Environment; Race; Perceptions of
Personal and Political Control
The concept of internal vs external control of reinforcement—
also referred to as locus of control (LoC)—was developed to
predict how reinforcements change expectancies (Rotter, 1975),
i.e. if a person perceives that an outcome is contingent upon his
own behaviour or his own relatively permanent characteristics,
it is termed a belief in internal control. In contrast, if a person
believes an outcome is the result of chance, fate, under the con-
trol of powerful others, or as unpredictable because of the great
complexity of the forces surrounding him, it is labelled a belief
in external control.
The Internal-External Locus of Control (I-E) Scale (Rotter,
1966) was developed to measure individual differences on this
construct. Originally conceived as a unidimensional measure,
subsequent factor analytic studies suggested a multidimensional
structure. Initial studies (Mirels, 1970) found two factors, the
first later labelled as General, or Personal Control, and the sec-
ond as Political Control. Other studies indicated the same basic
structure, although with some disagreement on the exact item
content of each factor (cf. Coombs & Schroeder, 1988; Lange
& Tiggeman, 1981, for discussion), and on how many factors
need to be extracted (cf. Parkes, 1985, for discussion). The
optimal number of interpretable factors appears to be two
(Parkes, 1985), and was most often found in subsequent studies
(Lefcourt, 1991). There is evidence that the two factors meas-
ure largely independent dimensions (cf. Lange & Tiggeman,
1981). Ferguson (1993) provided the most convincing psycho-
metric evidence for a specific two-model factor structure (per-
sonal and political control) to date, which was used in the pre-
sent study.
Studies in South Africa (SA) using the I-E Scale found high
test-retest reliability (Moosa, Moonsamy, & Fridjhon, 1997).
Older SA studies indicated that White respondents scored sig-
nificantly more towards internality than Black respondents, and
internality across all the racial groups was closely associated
with access to political and economic power (Riordan, 1981).
In SA, power—the ability of individuals to influence out-
comes—was previously ensconced in a social and political
system based on race, known as Apartheid. A minority group—
White citizens—occupied the dominant political and economic
positions, followed, in descending order of access to power and
resources, by Coloureds (citizens of mixed race), Asians (citi-
zens of Indian decent), and finally Black citizens. Apartheid
was replaced with a democratic political order in 1994, al-
though its social vestiges can still be found in South African
society. The past decade in post-apartheid SA saw monumental
changes in the distribution of power within society. This refers
to both political power, e.g. the achievement of universal suf-
frage and a parliament dominated by Black citizens, and eco-
nomic power, e.g. through government policies facilitating
“Black Economic Empowerment”, and its “Redistribution and
Development Program”.
Previous findings associated internality among SA race
groups with access to political and economic power (Riordan,
1981). Together with evidence (cf. Twenge, Zhang, & Im, 2004)
that I-E Scale scores are responsive to changes in the macro
sociocultural environment, this raised the question whether
political changes and related government policies have changed
the way a specific group of South African government em-
ployees perceive their own ability to influence their personal
lives and political environment. To do this, the two-factor
model of the I-E Scale (Ferguson, 1993) was used. The data
were collected in 2009, 15 years after the ascension of full de-
mocracy. Three hypotheses were formulated:
Hypothesis 1: There will be no significant difference between
the scores of the different race groups on the total score. It is
hypothesised that the post-apartheid political developments,
seeking to create equal opportunities for all, have led to some
normalisation of society.
Hypothesis 2: There will be no significant difference between
the scores of the different race groups on the personal control
factor. Although White participants are still enjoying the fruits
(e.g. economical prosperity) from their previous privileged
position in society, government policies of remuneration parity,
as well as affirmative action, gave Black participants equal
access to economic and other resources (and associated social
Hypothesis 3: Black participants will score significantly
higher (i.e. more external) on the political control factor than
White and Coloured participants. Although they now form the
politically empowered group in society, it is hypothesised that
after the long history of apartheid (>50 years), 15 years is not
enough to change a relatively enduring personality construct
like locus of control. The Coloured participants had access to
(very limited) political for longer (since 1984), and it was hy-
pothesised that their scores would not differ significantly from
the White participants.
The participants were technical engineering employees in the
public service. As such participants from the different race
groups have been on equal remuneration scales for the past 15
years. The study was conducted according to the principles of
the Declaration of Helsinki.
A total of 279 competed data-sets were included in the
analysis reported here. The participants had a mean age of 30
years (±6), which ranged from 18 to 55 years. All respondents
were male, and 76 (27%) identified themselves as Black Afri-
can, 75 (27%) as Coloured, and 128 (46%) as White.
Rotter’s I-E Scale is a 29-item forced-choice scale consisting
of 23 scored items and 6 filler items. Higher scores indicate
more externality. The test-retest reliability of the scale is satis-
factory (Twenge et al., 2004), and its validity has been exten-
sively documented (cf. Lefcourt, 1991). It spite of recent criti-
cisms, it is still the most widely used and cited scale to measure
locus of control (Beretvas, Suizzo, Durham, & Yarnell, 2008).
The average scores on the I-E Sale have increased consistently
over the past four decades, and was calculated at 11.96 by 2002
(up from 8.7 in 1960) (Twenge et al., 2004).
It was administered in its full 29-item forced choice format.
Data collection took place in 2009, exactly 15 years after the
ascension of full democracy.
Data Analysis
Factor scoring was done according to the guidelines in Fer-
guson (1993), which identified a personal control factor (11
items), and a political control factor (9 items). Because the
distribution of normality of the scores for both the total group
and race groups did not meet the requirements for ANOVA, the
non-parametric statistic Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA & Median
Test was used.
The total sample had an average I-E score of 7.2 (±3.4),
which ranged from 0 to 16. The total group and subgroup
scores can be found in Tables 1 and 2.
When the total scores of the three race groups were subjected
to the Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA & Median Test, no significant
differences were found between them [H2,279 = 5.1; p = 0.08].
Separate factor scores were then calculated. On the personal
control factor, no significant differences were found between
the race groups [H2,279 = 3.5; p = 0.17]. On the political control
factor, significant differences between the race groups did
emerge [H2,279 = 25.9; p < 0.0001]. Black South Africans had
significantly higher scores than both Coloured and White South
Africans, scoring in the direction of externality.
As expected, there were no significant race differences using
the total scores, supporting hypothesis 1. This result differs
from the findings by Riordan (1981) during the height of
Apartheid, where Whites scored significantly lower than Blacks,
and Coloureds significantly higher than both. Her sample com-
prised students, while this sample was career orientated techni-
cians, which may explain some of the difference. However, the
change in power, both politically and economically, may also
account for the changes, as the present political dispensation aims
to provide equal access to opportunities for all SA citizens.
Table 1.
Means, standard deviations, and distribution of normality of total group
Mean SD K-S*
I-E score 7.2 3.4 d = 0.09, p < 0.05
Personal c on trol factor 6.6 1.4 d = 0.15, p < 0.01
Political control factor 4.1 1.4 d = 0.14, p < 0.01
Note: *Kolmogorov-Smi rnov Test of Normality.
Table 2.
Means and standard deviations of subgroup scores.
Total I-E scorePersonal control
factor Political control
MeanSDMean SD Mean SD
Black 6.7 3.66.6 1.4 4.8 1.4
Coloured7.0 2.76.3 1.2 3.8 1.3
White 7.7 3.76.7 1.4 3.8 1.3
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Hypothesis 2, which did not expect significant differences
between the race groups in terms of personal control, was sup-
ported. Although they all had access to the same resources
(equal salaries, etc.), the similitude of their scores can also be
attributed to the context: to be successful in their occupational
environment, participants may require a strong belief that their
behaviour can positively influence outcomes in their immediate
environment, irrespective of race or other background vari-
Hypothesis 3, which expected that Black participants would
score significantly higher than Coloured and White participants,
was also supported. Previous studies indicated that internality
across all the racial groups was closely associated with access
to political and economic power (Riordan, 1981).
It may thus be that the Black participants, after 15 years of
democracy, do not yet believe that they can influence political
processes (to the same extent that other groups believe they
can), even while sharing in the economic benefits of democra-
tisation in their personal lives.
The support of hypothesis 3 suggests that enduring personal
constructs, like LoC, are not unambiguously contingent on
political developments. Further, apartheid had been the domi-
nant political dispensation for more than 50 years, and 10 years
may be too short a time to see such societal changes emerge
under a different political environment. Follow up studies in
another five or ten years time may shed more light on this in-
On a cautionary note, the present sample scored unusually
low, which may reflect the particular context of these partici-
pants rather than the national sociopolitical situation. Other SA
populations may thus reveal different profiles.
The findings indicate that changes in South African political
power did not yet change the participants’ perceptions of their
own influence on their political environment. In particular,
Black respondents believed in an internal control over their
personal lives equal to White and Coloured respondents, but
still perceived themselves to have lesser influence over political
affairs. This may suggest that the effects of the change of po-
litical power have not yet filtered down to the citizen in the
This comes in spite of the government’s aggressive agenda
for the transformation of the public service in the post-1994 era
(e.g. White Paper on Transformation of the Public Service,
1995; White Paper on Affirmative Action in the Public Service,
1998). It seems that more needs to be done to inculcate an un-
derstanding that individuals can influence the political devel-
opments in their environme n t s .
Finally, these findings further suggest the usefulness of the
I-E Scale factors in studying locus of control in contexts of
disproportionate political and economic power.
The initial results of this study was presented as a poster at
the 30th International Congress of Psychology, 22-27 July 2012,
Cape Town, South Africa.
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