Dateline: February, 2009, Issue 1

How does a juror's locus of control influence liability decisions?

Which of the following two statements best reflects your attitudes?

Jurors who choose #1 are more likely to have an internal locus of control. Jurors with an internal locus of control believe that individuals are in control of their own destiny, and that the outcomes that happen to them in life come about through their own skills and efforts.

Jurors who choose #2 are more likely to have an external locus of control. Jurors with an external locus of control believe that luck, fate, the actions of others, and situations in which they find themselves control their destiny, and that the outcomes that happen to them in life are largely beyond their own control.

Phares and Wilson (1972) examined how a juror's locus of control affected their liability decisions in an automobile accident case. Jurors with an internal locus of control attributed more responsibility to a defendant than jurors with an external locus of control when the defendant's actions were ambiguous. Said differently, jurors who believe individuals are responsible for their own fate hold defendants more responsible than jurors who believe that what happens to people is largely outside of their control. However, when the defendant was clearly at fault, both internal and external locus of control jurors responded similarly.

A juror's locus of control has an impact on liability decisions when a defendant's actions are ambiguous.

Source Phares, E. J. & Wilson, K. G. (1972). Responsibility attribution: Role of outcome severity, situational ambiguity, and internal-external control. Journal of Personality, 40, pp. 392-406.