The relationship between locus of control, residential setting, and employment status within a sample of adults with mental retardation

Michael E Attanasio, Pace University


As individuals with mental retardation transition from the school setting to vocational and residential services, one of the primary referrals made by special educators and school psychologists is to developmental disability programs. Since the 1990's the guiding philosophy of these programs has been consumer empowerment, which attempts to promote self-determination and self-efficacy in individuals with disabilities. While the consumer empowerment philosophy creates a shift in locus of control from the program staff to the consumers, there has been little study of locus of control within populations with mental retardation. Previous research has suggested that individuals with mental retardation exhibit a more external locus of control than do peers without disabilities, but few studies have looked at factors that are associated with greater internal locus of control within this population. Of the studies that have examined correlates of internal control within normal populations, paid employment, independent living, increased intelligence, and male gender have been found to be associated with greater internal locus of control. The purpose of this study was to determine if these factors are also correlated with greater internal locus of control within a sample of individuals with mental retardation. The participants in this study were 77 individuals with diagnoses of mental retardation who received services from a non-profit agency for the developmentally disabled in Staten Island. All subjects participated in vocational activities, received residential services, were over 18 years of age, and were within the mild to moderate range of mental retardation. Locus of control was assessed via the Adult Version of the Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External Scale (ANS-IE), and case records were reviewed to determine cognitive level, demographic information, and relevant employment and residential information. The results of the study reveal that individuals with mental retardation who were engaged in supported employment were significantly more internal than those in workshop settings. Significant differences in locus of control were not found between individuals in supported apartments and those in group homes, but a trend was found in the predicted direction. Individuals who were residing in supported housing and engaged in supported employment did not exhibit greater internal locus of control than those who were functioning in more supportive settings, as the predicted interaction effect was not significant. The results also reveal that a significant difference in locus of control did not exist between individuals with mild and moderate mental retardation. Finally, this study also found that gender difference in locus of control did not exist within the sample. The results of this study have implications for school psychology and the agencies serving individuals with mental retardation. Given the association between paid employment and internal locus of control, service agencies may do well to increase efforts to integrate individuals with mental retardation into the general workforce, while providing counseling that specifically aims at promoting self-determination, self-efficacy, and internal locus of control. For the school psychologist, this study suggests that an understanding of both disabled students' perceptions of control and service agencies' ability to foster control and choice are important considerations during the transitioning process. In addition, as studies suggest that internal locus of control is associated with more adaptive adult outcomes, school-based intervention strategies that foster internal control may have important long-term implications for students.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Personality psychology

Recommended Citation

Attanasio, Michael E, "The relationship between locus of control, residential setting, and employment status within a sample of adults with mental retardation" (2003). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3095126.



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