Title: The Relationship between Locus of Control and Academic Level and Sex of Secondary School Students
Author: Marvin W. Ross, University of Ottawa and Maurice C. Taylor, Algonquin College
Complete text:


The relationships among locus of control, academic program, and sex of grade 9 secondary school students were investigated. Two hundred sixty-seven high school students from advanced, general, and basic level programs were administered the modified forms of the Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control Scale for Children and the Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Questionnaire. As hypothesized, students in the advanced level program were more internally controlled than either general or basic level students. As well, advanced level students were more internally responsible for their intellectual-academic failures than general level students. Sex differences as they relate to specific expectancies in intellectual achievement situations are also discussed.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether academic level and sex of grade 9 secondary school students are related to generalized expectancies for locus of control of reinforcements. In addition the relationship of academic level and sex to specific expectancies in intellectual achievement situations was explored.

Locus of control is defined (Rotter, 1966) as a generalized expectancy of the extent to which a person perceives that events in one's life are consequences of one's behavior. People, described as "internal", believe that they exercise more control over events and outcomes affecting them. In contrast, "externals" tend to believe that they have little control over what happens to them. These expectancies are perceived to be the result of many past experiences.

Lefcourt (1980) suggests that some expectancies are very general, relating to most life events; other expectancies are quite specific and are related to very specific life events. Most instruments used to measure locus of control provide measures of a generalized expectancy. The Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Questionnaire (IARQ) (Crandall, Katkovsky, & Crandall, 1965) does provide a measure of specific expectancies of responsibility for academic success and failure. The scale gives a score for internalized success (I+) and one for internalized failure.

In a literature review of the relationship between locus of control (generalized and specific expectancies) and achievement, Bar-Tal and Bar-Zohar (1977) stated that 31 of 36 studies reviewed indicated a significant relationship between locus of control and academic achievement with internals having higher achievement than externals. McGhee and Crandall (1968) investigated specific expectancies and reported I+ as a predictor of male achievement and I- as a predictor of female achievement.

Nowicki and Strickland (1973) found that particularly for males an internal score on the Nowicki-Strickland Scale is related to academic competence and to social maturity and appears to be a correlate of independent, striving, and self-motivated behaviors.

Dweck and Licht (1980) maintain that girls and boys have different characteristic ways of coping with positive and negative outcomes. The two sexes interpret their successes and failures differently and have different views of the implications for their abilities. They differ in the persistence of their attempts to solve a difficult problem, in the quality of their performance after failure, and in their task choices after they encounter difficulty.

Lochel (1983) reviewed sex differences in achievement. She suggests that females are more inclined to take responsibility for failure. She views females as lacking in confidence in their abilities and not being prepared to cope with failure.

As Parsons (1981) has recently pointed out, the conclusion that males tend to attribute their failures to external or unstable causes while females tend to attribute their failures to internal causes appears to be an oversimplification. In a review of the attributional literature she cites several examples. Using the IARQ, Dweck and Reppucci (1973) reported no sex difference in general internality for failure but found boys to be slightly more likely to attribute their failures to lack of effort than girls. In contrast, Crandall et al. (1965) found girls to be more internal for their failures; Beck (1977) found no sex differences in either internality or lack of effort attributions; Diener and Dweck (1978) did not report a significant sex difference on either lack of effort or internality for failure; and Nicholls (1975) found no main effect sex difference in attributions of failure due to lack of effort. Similarly, inconsistent patterns emerge for the measures of attributions of failure to external causes (Dweck & Repucci, 1973; Nicholls, 1975; Parsons, 1978).

Ontario secondary school students take courses at one of three levels: advanced, general, and basic. Advanced level students are expected to continue their education at a university. General level students are prepared to continue education by taking technical or professional courses related to specific occupations or they may not continue studies. Basic level students follow vocational courses at high school and are generally not considered to be capable of succeeding at the general or advanced levels.

Students enrolling in basic level vocational programs are directed to these programs by elementary school staff. Typically, these students have a record of low achievement and many have specific learning problems. They have likely received special help throughout their elementary school experience.

Students with the advice of both elementary and secondary school staff choose to study either general or advanced level academic courses (biology, chemistry, English, geography, history, mathematics, physics). In making this choice past achievement is more likely a great determinant than aptitude. However, both achievement and aptitude would undoubtedly be lower for general level students.

Because of these past experiences which cause students to select or to be counselled into specific levels, it was hypothesized that advanced level students would be most internal and basic level students least internal for both generalized and specific locus of control measures.

On the basis of the literature reviewed, it was also hypothesized that females would take more responsibility for failure than males.

NEXT PAGE