Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 Julian Rotter’s Locus of Control (1954) exists as an important aspect of personality and is understood in the perceived degrees of having internal or external control over one’s environment. In the case of this study of Internet use in China, a high internal locus of control would indicate that Chinese netizens prefer control over their own media consumption (e.g., self-censorship), while a high external locus of control would indicate that they feel overwhelmed and unable to manage it on their own, thus preferring a higher authority, such as the government, to manage the media environment.

Comment Icon0 Consistently researched with principles from social learning theory (Lefcourt, 1992; Rotter, 1990), the locus of control (LOC) construct captures people’s general expectancies about the causes of rewards and punishments (Rotter, 1966; Skinner, 1996). It consists of two dimensions of causes – internal and external. Those with an internal LOC generally expect that their actions will produce predictable outcomes. Those with an external LOC generally expect that outcomes are due to external variables such as fate, luck or powerful people. The construct was initially conceptualized as uni-dimensional with internal and external LOC as opposite ends of a bipolar continuum. The “instrument of choice” for assessing adult’s LOC across situations has been Rotter’s (1996) Internal/External scale (Strickland, 1989).

Comment Icon0 By examining how locus of control, an important consumer behavior construct, differentiates among Internet users and their media consumption, we could predict their use and beliefs regarding the regulation of content on the Internet. Not far from the study of Uses and Gratifications, it is understood that people use media because of the utility they derive from the medium (Rubin, 1993). Individuals value websites for their entertainment, informational value (Ducoffe, 1996; Eighemy, 1997) and purchase utility (Schlosser, Shavitt & Kanfer, 1999), and use the web socially, to gather information and for economic reasons (Korgaonkar & Wolin 1999). In line with internal versus external LOC, an important distinction in media use is the aspect of specific, goal-directed behavior versus unstructured, recreational, experiential behavior (Novak, Hoffman & Duhachek, 2003). For instance, using the Internet for information-gathering to reduce uncertainty in purchasing goods would be considered a goal-directed behavior, since it is instrumental, purposive and task-specific. Comparatively, experiential behavior has been found to be hedonic, familiar and ritualized in orientation, and is reflected non-linear searching.

Comment Icon0 In pretext, it is generally assumed that people would prefer to have direct control over their environment. As such, one might assume that people would seize the opportunity to exert control in online environments through a series of goal-directed, self-initiated activities, where relevant information would carry onto the physical world as a form of self-empowerment (White, 1959). Complication arises where people’s ability to act on or be acted upon by their environment, depends greatly on their general expectancies as to whether their own actions will produce predictable results (Lefcourt, 1966; Rotter 1966). The nature of web use, such as for recreation or work, would be an outcome of individual differences related to this locus of control construct. In the case of China, this locus of control can be used to predict consumer attitudes towards government regulation of the Internet. Whereby government regulation is often viewed as an infringement of individuals’ rights, it represents external regulation at the expense of self-regulation. As such, the locus of control construct is measurably relevant to key issues involving Internet policy.

Comment Icon0 In the locus of control framework, Internals are more action-oriented than Externals. They often commit to risky, innovative and difficult tasks (Hollenbeck et al, 1989; Howell & Avolio, 1993), especially seeking out those allowing for personal control (Brenders, 1987). They believe in their own capabilities to perform activities necessary to control events, and consequently will set their own goals (Phillips and Gully, 1997). At the same time, they put a great deal of effort into mastering situations (Brenders, 1987; Ryff, 1989; Zimmerman and Rappaport, 1988) and derive more satisfaction from situations calling for personal control (Brenders, 1987). These beliefs appear to influence their behaviors to act accordingly.

Comment Icon0 In contrast, Externals tend to avoid difficult situations, especially those requiring their active involvement. For instance, they pursue communication strategies that require little mastery (Brenders, 1987) and unlike Internals, are unlikely to master the skills necessary to accomplish their goals (Zimmerman, 1995). In general, Externals believe that they lack the skills necessary to be effective problem-solvers (Larson, Piersel, Imao & Allen, 1990). Consequently, they exhibit such avoidant behaviors as procrastinating (Jannsen & Carton, 1999) or withdrawing, retreating or escaping (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1992; Ingledew, Hardy & Cooper, 1997; Skinner 1996). For instance in China, Internals would likely believe that they can shape their media environment through community moderation, while Externals would see themselves as powerless and prefer government intervention on public media consumption.

Comment Icon0 In designing the LOC scale, Levenson (1974) realized inconsistencies in findings across research studies due to the fact that there were actually two types of externals: 1) those who believe that the world is ordered and powerful people are in control; and 2) those who believe that the world is disordered and events are due to non-human forces (such as chance or fate). Levenson’s scale improved the measurement tool to address these concerns, by using a Likert scale to allow the dimensions to be statistically independent. In addition, the external dimension is categorized as either a belief that control is in the hands of human forces (i.e. powerful people) or non-human forces (i.e. chance). For those individuals who believe in the former, outcomes are predictable and the potential for control exists. For those who believe in chance, outcomes are unpredictable and control is not possible. As mentioned previously, this LOC scale would help determine this study’s first and second hypotheses, which stated that “Internal Locus of Control has a positive relationship with peer production of online news content”, as well as how “External Locus of Control has a positive relationship with preference for regulated online news content”.

Chapter 3.5 – Locus of Control


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