THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT AND
LOCUS OF CONTROL
V. Thielker, M. Kwok,
and M. Senisais
Although contemporary schooling
promotes graduates who are capable of participating thoughtfully in society,
educational practices have a tendency to foster passivity. In traditional
classrooms, the teacher is seen as the information giver; knowledge flows
one way, from teacher to student. This type of environment may have an
adverse affect on some students, increasing their likelihood to become
disengaged from the learning process. Therefore, education can benefit
from helping students take more control of their learning.
Students with an external locus
of control may be more affected by positive reinforcement than students
with an internal locus of control.
locus of control refers to the
types of attributions students make for their successes and failures on
internals or individuals
with an internal locus of control
attribute the outcomes in their lives to their own actions and choices.
externals or individuals
with an external locus of control
attribute outcomes in their lives to chance, fate or powerful other people
Positive Reinforcement refers
to the administration of verbal praise and encouragement
Research suggests that self-competence (Brookover et al.,
1964) and evaluations from significant others (Hancock, 2000) positively
influence the way in which students perform.
Hill et al. (1998) suggests that studentsí academic achievement
may be influenced by their locus of control. Results confirm that students
with an external locus of control are more likely to respond to failure
by giving up hope, while those with an internal locus of control are more
likely to respond by trying harder to improve.
These findings are consistent with the results of a motivational
study conducted by Basgall and Snyder (1988), which found that students
who consistently attribute failures to external factors are more likely
to loose their motivation to succeed than students who attribute success
to internal factors.
60 students from the Mount Holyoke College student population
signed up to participate in our study.
A 33 questioned Locus of Control Attribution Style Test (PsychTests.com)
scored using the 7-point Lickert Scale (1: Strongly Agree, 7: Strongly
Disagree) was used.
A 4-tasked packet was given to the participants, which included
a word scrabble, crossword puzzle, analogies and a word search. (created
with help from www.Qualint.com)
A results page using pencil and paper was used to tabulate
A 2 x 2 independent groups ANOVA was
used to determine if locus of control (internal or external) and reinforcement
administered to participants (positive or no reinforcement) was significantly
related to the number of items correct.
A consent form with a bogus study title was first given to
participants to sign and their right to withdraw without consequence was
Participants were given the Attribution Style Test, which
divided the participant into an Internal LOC or External LOC (Internal
LOC: score of 110 or lower, External LOC: score of 111 or higher).
Participants were then separated based on their LOC and randomly
assigned to receive the positive reinforcement or no reinforcement.
All participants were given instructions on how to complete
the tasks and asked to do a sample for each one.
Those in the positive reinforcement group received verbal
praise, "Excellent job!" after correctly answering the sample question.
Those in the no reinforcement group were simply told, "That
A time of 30 minutes maximum was allotted for the 4 tasks.
Upon the completion of the tasks, both experimenter and participant
reviewed the correct answers to the tasks.
Finally a debriefing statement was given explaining the true
purpose of our study and our anticipated results.
Overall, no significant relationship
was found between locus of control and positive reinforcement.
While not significant, these results
indicate a tendency for the data to move in the hypothesized direction;
however, this research needs to be replicated in order to further explore
Externals received more correct items
when exposed to positive reinforcement than externals in the control condition.
The scores of the internals were virtually
the same in both conditions (see Table 1).
Figure 1. Mean number of items correct (+SE) for internal
(n=30) and external (n=30) groups in positive reinforcement and no reinforcement
Mean Number of Items Correct
in Reinforcement Conditions
Locus of Control Mean Standard Deviation Sample
Positive Reinforcement 30.29 8.30 14
No Reinforcement 31.13 11.99 16
Positive Reinforcement 35.83 8.25 21
No Reinforcement 29.83 8.53 9
The hypothesis, that students with
an external locus of control are more likely to be affected by positive
reinforcement than students with an internal locus of control, was not
supported by the data. Our mean values showed no significant difference.
Methodological difficulties such as the administration of positive reinforcement,
using a small sample size, selection and length of task given to participants
may have affected the results.
Future studies may carry implications
for academic success. In receiving consistent positive reinforcement from
educators, students may build self-competence and, in doing so, subvert
the tendency to develop an external locus of control.
The current findings are not consistent
with the prior literature on positive reinforcement. For instance, Hancock
(2000) showed that students exposed to verbal praise spent more time studying
than students who were not reinforced.
In the current study, the administration
of praise may have been too brief to produce the anticipated effect. In
order to improve the methodology of this study, researchers may consider
a longer application of positive reinforcement.