The problem of internal as compared to external control concerns, first, the circumstances under which one perceives one's own behavior to be determined by forces in the environment or by oneself. Second, it concerns the possibility that even in the same situation, people differ in the processes that govern their own behavior.
Almost any line of research points to the influence of cognitive factors in the selection and control of response. The Würzburg school showed how instructions or task conditions induce in the subject a set or particular kind of readiness to respond, which then determines subsequent responses. Following the lead of E. C. Tolman, many psychologists employ the term expectancy for this phenomenon. Even more generally, the term attitude refers to the regulative function in personality.
A set is essentially defined by experimental conditions and is inferred by effects associated with variations in those conditions. But an attitude requires measurement independent of the situation, such as by a personality test. When differences appear in performance, then, we would link them with intrinsic variations in cognitive structure.
It is usually not sufficient just to assess a personality variable. Its mere presence in the subject does not guarantee that it will influence response. For this reason, an experimenter needs to include conditions that maximize its operation. These conditions include arousal or induction aimed at the variable in question, and a task that engages the subject's interest or commitment enough to involve his or her resources.
Research on internal—as compared to external—control of behavior has employed strategies, on the one hand, of manipulating cognition by extrinsically imposed conditions, and on the other hand, by identifying groups who differ in antecedent assessment of these inferred characteristics. The former approach has to do with sets or expectancies, the latter with attitudes. In neither strategy have the requisite conditions just mentioned always been fully recognized.
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