Category Archives: psychology

Locus of control

“Locus of control” is basically a scientific measure of whether or not you believe in The Secret.

People who have an internal locus of control think they are masters of their own destiny. If you set your mind to it, you can do anything. It’s not quite the same thing as “belief in a just universe,” but it’s close.

People who have an external locus of control think their lives are driven mostly by random, external events. You’re either in the right place at the right time or you aren’t.

You can fill out a 13-item questionnaire here. I scored 9 out of 13, which falls on the “external” end of the scale. I am admittedly biased, but this seems to me a perfectly reasonable point of view. And practical. It must be exhausting to think your future hangs in the balance of every action you take.

But apparently we of the external loci are more likely to be unhappy, depressed, and stressed.’s resident expert on stress suggests I should develop an internal locus of control to be happier.

I disagree. Besides being an apparent outlier in the data for being happy, I think that strategy might be putting the horse before the cart. I haven’t done any serious googlings, but it seems more likely to me that an external locus of control could be a coping mechanism for unhappy, depressed, and stressed people. First you lose your job, then you attribute it to outside forces. You didn’t lose your job because you were resigned to fate.

Am I out of line here?

(photo credit)

We’re all a little crazy

It’s always struck me as fascinating the way people make “rational” decisions, especially the way the weights of pros and cons shift over time.

Paul Bloom writes in The Atlantic about the multiple personalities that share space in our minds and how their collective and often conflicted reasoning can explain why we do what we do. (An important distinction, however, is made between normal, integrated multiplicity and the dramatic internal schisms of dissociative-identity disorder.)

There is an intutive appeal to this theory. As an example, Bloom offers the difference between his nighttime self and his morning self:

Late at night, when deciding not to bother setting up the coffee machine for the next morning, I sometimes think of the man who will wake up as a different person, and wonder, What did he ever do for me? When I get up and there’s no coffee ready, I curse the lazy bastard who shirked his duties the night before.

I’m sure everyone has had similar moments of “What was I thinking?” surprise. At night, it seems reasonable to sacrifice a half-hour of sleep to watch The Daily Show, but in the morning those lost minutes seem precious. My morning self thinks my nighttime self was a selfish jerk to steal his sleep. (I had to edit that last bit from “my sleep” to “his sleep” – I guess my morning self is writing this.)

Bloom thinks libertarian paternalism might be a good way to reconcile our notions of free will and rational decision making with the reality of how we actually operate. It’s not cool to restrict freedoms but it’s OK to shape the structure in which we make incentives toward a preferred conclusion. This strikes me as paying lip service to actual liberty and most libertarians probably couldn’t swallow that pill, but libertarians are mostly selfish douchebags anyway.

Libertarian paternalism, by another name, is already part of how we deal with health behaviours. For example, it’s not enough to educate people about the health effects of smoking; we have to make smoking difficult and socially unacceptable. We weaken the impulsive, addictive personalities to the benefit of our deliberative, thoughtful personalities.

Changing gears, slightly: I wonder if there is a relationship between the manifestation of these personalities and tendencies towards introversion and extroversion. Where extroverts seek dialogue with others, do introverts satisfy that need for dialogue within themselves? Just a thought.

(photo credit)

UPDATE – 7:50 pm

An application of game theory to multiple personalities (or I suppose I should be saying “multiple selves”) and waking up earlier.

Your predicament is a contest between two competitors, Evening Ruth and Morning Ruth. Evening Ruth has fine ideas about an early start, but her late nights impose costs on Morning Ruth, who then stays in bed.

One option is to tie Morning Ruth’s hands, just as Odysseus ordered his sailors to tie him to the mast. Evening Ruth might buy one of those motorised alarm clocks that falls off the dresser and scuttles under the bed, beeping loudly.

An alternative is to recruit a third player. The British government handed over control of interest rates to the Bank of England. Similarly, ask an early-bird friend to call every morning.

Odder still, Evening Ruth could enlist Bad Cop Ruth to punish Morning Ruth for lie-ins by, say, denying her(self) television privileges. Bizarre as it may seem to turn one person’s decision into a three-way inner struggle, Schelling avers that this technique works.

One final point. Your letter was evidently composed by Evening Ruth. Are you sure that Morning Ruth’s preferences are so mistaken?