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Locus of Control Predicts Appraisals and Cardiovascular Reactivity to a Novel Active Coping Task


  • The authors would like to thank Toby Mordkoff for his help in designing the video-game task, Robert Kelsey and William Guethlein for the use of their impedance data editing software (Enscorel), and Gary Berntson, John Cacioppo & Dave Lozano for the use of their acquisition software (ANS Suites). In addition, we would like to thank the many undergraduate research assistants, without whose dedication this project would not have been possible: Michele Diaz, Jesse Fallon, Julie Gifford, Doug Hauck, Amelia Mundis, Andrew Scherff, and Kavitha Vasagar. We also thank Bob Stern, Bill Ray, and Byron Jones for their comments on the study. This research was funded by a dissertation support grant from the Research and Graduate Studies Office of the College of Liberal Arts at Pennsylvania State University to Susan E. Weinstein with additional funding from a B/START grant to K.S.Q. (NIH#: R03MH56910)

Address correspondence to: Suzanne E. Weinstein, Pennsylvania State University, 301 Rider Bldg. II, University Park, PA. 16802. E-mail:


ABSTRACT These two studies investigated the influence of dispositional locus of control (LOC) on subjective and physiological responses to a novel laboratory stressor task. Across two studies, 64 healthy undergraduate students, ages 18–22, completed Levenson's (LOC) scales for internal, powerful others, and chance prior to performing a video-game task. Participants rated pretask and posttask stressfulness and coping ability (i.e., measures of primary and secondary appraisal). Cardiovascular measures (heart period, HP; preejection period, PEP; respiratory sinus arrhythmia, RSA; cardiac output, CO; systolic blood pressure, SBP; diastolic blood pressure, DBP & total peripheral resistance, TPR) were recorded during 4-minute baseline and 4-minute stressor task periods. The internal LOC factor predicted pretask reports of coping ability as well as posttask reports of stressfulness. In contrast, the powerful-others LOC factor predicted cardiac changes (HP, PEP, and RSA) during the task but not cardiac output or any other vascular change measure. These results underscore the importance of using the three subscales of the Levenson LOC to assess relationships between dispositional LOC and the response to stressors because self-reported appraisals of a task are predicted by a different component of dispositional LOC than are task-related cardiovascular functions.