JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY ASSESSMENT, 1990, 54(1 & 2), 191-203
Copyright © 1990, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
A New Measure of Weight Locus
of Control: The Dieting Beliefs Scale
Stephen Stotland and David C. Zuroff
McGill University, Montreal
This article describes the construction and preliminary validation of a new scale of
weight locus of control, the Dieting Beliefs Scale. The 16-item scale demonstrated
moderate internal consistency and high test-retest reliability in a sample of
undergraduate women. Principal-components analysis suggested three factors.
The three factors were interpretable and had distinct relations with a variety of
weight-related and psychological variables. The results suggest that weight locus of
control is a multidimensional construct, and they provide a possible explanation
for the inconsistent findings concerning the relation between weight locus of
control and dieting success. Implications for the study of dieting relapse and for the
construction of treatment programs are discussed.
Internal locus of control (Rotter, 1966) has been proposed by several researchers
as a potential predictor of success in weight-loss programs. Unfortunately, the
research findings offer a rather confusing picture of the relation, with some
results positive (Blach &. Ross, 1975; Ross, Kalucy, &. Morton, 1983) and others
negative (Gormally, Rardin, & Black, 1980; Tobias & MacDonald, 1977).
Several reasons may be offered for this state of affairs, including: (a) the general
neglect of important variables specified by social learning theory other than
locus of control, (b) the use of general as opposed to weight-specific measures of
locus of control, (c) the use of locus of control measures of questionable
reliability and validity. An additional explanation for the inconsistent results in
this area concerns the nature of weight locus of control. Previous research has
treated it as a unidimensional construct, defined as internal versus external
beliefs about the control of weight. Research concerning both general (Reid &
Ware, 1974) and health locus of control (K. A. Wallston, B. S. Wallston, &.
DeVellis, 1978) has discovered a multidimensional structure, and it is possible
that the same is true of weight locus of control.
Several researchers have reported a significant relation between locus of
192 STOTLAND AND ZUROFF
control and weight loss. Balcb and Ross (1975) evaluated tbe relation between
Rotter's Internal-External (I-E) Locus of Control Scale and outcome in 34
female participants in a 9-week bebavioral weigbt loss program. Significant
correlations were found between the Rotter I-E scale and botb program
adherence and weight loss.
Ross et al. (1983) administered the Reid and Ware (1974) revision of the Rotter
I-E scale to 133 women undergoing jaw wiring for massive obesity. Ross et al.
revised the scale to include several items specifically related to beliefs concerning
locus of control of weight loss. A factor analysis of the scale suggested a
three-factor solution, composed of a large, generalized Locus of Control factor;
a Self-Control factor; and a Social Systems Control factor. These three factors
were considered separately in the prediction of weight loss, weight maintenance,
and treatment compliance.
Results showed that scores on the General Locus of Control factor predicted
treatment compliance and weight maintenance. No relation was found between
this factor and weight loss during treatment, which the authors suggested may
have been due to the specific controls in the weight-loss phase imposed by jaw
wiring. Neither of tbe other two scales was useful in predicting any of the
outcome criteria. The five weight-specific items did not load on any one of the
factored scales, but were spread across all three of them. The lack of cohesion of
these items would tend to limit their predictive validity. This study, however,
suggested tbat a general measure of locus of control may be significantly related
to treatment outcome.
In contrast to these findings, several authors have reported no relation
between locus of control and weigbt change. B. S. Wallston, K. A. Wallston,
Kaplan, and Maides (1976) assigned overweight women to either a self-directed
or a group (externally directed) program. The conditions differed in the manner
of dissemination of information about weigbt control strategies and in the
amount of contact with the experimenters. Both I-E locus of control and
health locus of control (HLC) were assessed. A significant interaction between
HLC and treatment condition was found for subjects' ratings of satisfaction with
the treatment program, such that satisfaction was higher wben program and
subject type were consistent. No such relation was found for I-E classification.
No significant main effects or interactions were found, for either scale, wben
weight loss was considered. Anotber negative finding was observed by Gormally
et al. (1980). They measured I-E locus of control at pretreatment in 40 female
participants in a 16-week bebavioral treatment program. No relation was found
between the I-E dimension and weight loss.
Tobias and MacDonald (1977) administered the I-E scale and a five-item
weight-specific locus of control scale to 96 undergraduate women participating
in one of five weight-loss treatment groups. Only the bibliotherapy and bebav-
ioral contract groups achieved significant weight losses. No differences between
DIETING BELIEFS SCALE 193
groups in locus of control (either scale) were found at either pretreatment or
posttreatment. Only the group in which treatment was designed specifically to
inculcate beliefs that deficits in willpower and effort are primary causes of obesity
showed a shift to more internal weight locus of control beliefs; however, this
group was not successful in losing weight. The authors concluded that locus of
control is not important in determining treatment success. However, two
criticisms of this conclusion can be made.
First, the unknown psychometric properties of their weight locus of controls
scale preclude definite conclusions about the construct itself. Furthermore,
Tobias and MacDonald's analyses did not address the important issue of locus of
control as a predictor variable. It is possible that a correlational analysis of the
relation between locus of control and weight loss would have produced a
significant result. In other words, within-group differences in weight loss might
have been associated with differences in locus of control.
A study by Saltzer (1982) is notable for being the first to report information
about the reliability and convergent validity of a scale designed to measure
weight locus of control. Saltzer examined the ability of a four-item Weight Locus
of Control Scale (WLOC) to predict weight loss, relative to general measures of
locus of control (The Rotter I-E scale), and the Multidimensional Health Locus
of Control Scale (MHLC; K. A. Wallston et al, 1978). The scale demonstrated
moderate test-retest reliability in an undergraduate sample. Internal consistency
(Cronbach's alpha) appeared relatively low, however. Saltzer suggested that this
may have been attributable to the fact that the scale had only four items. The
scale was shown to correlate significantly, but only to a moderate degree, with
general locus of control scales, thus establishing some degree of convergent
validity. Finally, the scale was found to be uncorrelated with a measure of social
Saltzer (1982) then assessed the relations among WLOC, MHLC, and weight
loss in 115 female patients in a medical weight-reduction program. In addition to
locus of control, a value survey was included. It was hypothesized that internals
with a high value of health or physical appearance would be more successful
than externals with similar values. Program success was defined in terms of an
individual's ability to achieve her weight-loss goal. The magnitude of the
correlation between initial weight-loss goal and posttreatment weight was
compared across groups of subjects selected to be high on health or physical
appearance and either high or low on WLOC. The correlation was significantly
higher in the group of internals with high value on health or physical appear-
ance than in the group of externals with similar values. It was concluded that
given a high value of weight loss, WLOC is a significant predictor of success (i.e.,
the ability to achieve one's weight-loss goal).
This study seems to provide some evidence of the value of a specific measure
of weight locus of control. Criticisms can be made concerning the questionable
194 STOTLAND AND ZUROFF
reliability of the scale, and the unorthodox measure of outcome used in the
second study. One wonders about the relation of WLOC and weight changes
defined in terms of percentage overweight, percentage body fat, or other
outcome measures typically used in obesity treatment studies.
The research reviewed so far can be summarized as follows. First, the relation
between generalized locus of control and weight loss is inconsistent. Further-
more, the reasons why only some studies find a significant relation have not
been identified. One possibility is suggested by Saltzer (1982), who found that
WLOC was a much better predictor when the value of weight loss was
considered. Rotter (1975) suggested that the failure to consider value is the most
frequent conceptual problem on the part of locus of control investigators. A
second possibility is that generalized measures of locus of control are too broad
to make good predictions about weight loss (cf. Rotter, 1975). Generalized locus
of control allows prediction of a wide range of behaviors, but at a low level.
Rotter suggested that when one is seeking to predict behavior for a practical
purpose, the cost of developing a domain-specific measure may be justified. An
additional consideration is that the importance of generalized expectancy in
determining behavior decreases as an individual's experience in the situation
increases. The great familiarity of most overweight people with dieting suggests
that more specific measures of expectancy may be necessary to predict dieting
Three studies reviewed here included weight-specific locus of control scales
(Ross et al, 1983; Saltzer, 1982; Tobias & MacDonald, 1977). Saltzer's seems to
be the best scale developed thus far, demonstrating superiority in predicting
outcome to health locus of control and generalized locus of control. However,
the WLOC had low internal consistency. This may be due to its length, but it
raises questions about whether weight locus of control may be a multidimen-
This article describes the construction of a new measure of weight locus of
control, its reliability and dimensional structure, and preliminary construct
validity data. To establish the construct validity of our Dieting Beliefs Scale
(DBS), we examined its relations with weight, dieting behavior, and relevant
psychological variables. In general, predictions were based on the idea that
higher scores on the DBS (i.e., more internal beliefs) would be related to reports
of success in weight control. It was predicted that DBS scores would be
significantly and negatively related with weight, the self-perception of having a
weight problems, and binge eating. We assumed that heavier individuals and
those with problem eating behaviors have had the experience of not being
successful in exerting control in this area. Significant positive relations with DBS
were predicted for tendency to diet, retrospective reports of weight loss, re-
strained eating style, self-esteem, and WLOC. A nonsignificant relation be-
tween DBS and social desirability was expected.
DIETING BELIEPS SCALE 195
Following Rotter's (1966) definition of locus of control, weight locus of control was
defined as the expectancy that one can affect or control, at least in part, one's
own weight. The belief that one's own behavior or attributes determine one's
weight is described as a belief in internal weight locus of control. The belief that
one's weight is due to factors outside his or her own control, such as luck, genes,
fate, or social support, is labeled a belief in exterruxl weight locus of control. Four of
the items on the DBS were patterned after those on the Health Locus of Control
(HLC) Scale (B. S. Wallston et al., 1976). The 16 items are listed in Table 1. Items
were balanced to include equal numbers of internal and external items, to
control for acquiescence bias. The scale was constructed as if it were measuring
Dieting Beliefs Scale
Please respond to the following statements by indicating how well each statement describes your
beliefs. Place a number from 1 (not at all descriptive of my beliefs) to 6 (very descriptive of my beliefs)
in the space provided before each statement.
1 2 3 4 5 Ç
Not at all
1. By restricting what one eats, one can lose weight.
2. When people gain weight it is because of something they have done or not done.
3. A thin body is largely a result of genetics.
4. No matter how much effort one puts into dieting, one's weight tends to stay
about the same.
5. One's weight is, to a great extent, controlled by fate.
6. There is so much fattening food around that losing weight is almost impossible.
7. Most people can only diet successfully when other people push them to do it.
8. Having a slim and fit body has very little to do with luck.
9. People who are overweight lack the willpower necessary to conttol
10. Each of us is directly responsible for our weight.
11. Losing weight is simply a matter of wanting to do it and applying yourself.
12. People who are more than a couple of pounds overweight need professional help
to lose weight.
13. By increasing the amount one exercises, one can lose weight.
14. Most people are at their present weight because that is the weight level that is
natural for them.
15. Unsuccessful dieting is due to lack of effort.
16. In order to lose weight people must get a lot of encouragement from others.
Note: Items labeled with an asterisk (*) are scored in the reverse direction.
196 STOTLAND AND ZUROFF
a unidimensional but broad construct. The dimensional structure was examined
by means of principal-components analysis.
Respondents are asked to indicate how well each statement describes their
own beliefs, using a 6-point scale ranging from not at all descriptive of my beliefs (1)
to very descriptive of my beliefs (6). The scale is scored in the internal direction, so
that higher scores represent more internal weight locus of control. Scores can
range from 16 to 96. In our sample, the scale mean was 67.5, with a standard
deviation of 8.7. Scores ranged from 45 to 86.
One hundred undergraduate women enrolled in psychology classes at McGill
University volunteered to participate in the study. Subjects were asked if they
would be willing to complete several questionnaires concerned with "dieting
beliefs." Subjects were not selected for dieting status.
Inspection of Table 2 reveals that this sample of college women was generally
of normal weight. Subjects' self-reported weights and heights were used to obtain
a measure of Body Mass Index (BMI, kg/m^; Keys, Fidanza, Karvonen,
Kimurag, &. Taylor, 1972). Subjects' previous weight loss was defined as the
difference between self-reported current and maximum BMI. Only 3 women
were overweight (BMI > 25.0), and only one could be considered obese (BMI >
27.3). Thirteen percent of the sample had been overweight at their highest
reported weight and 2 subjects' highest weight placed them in the obese range.
Despite the generally normal weight of the sample, a large proportion had
engaged in weight-loss diets. Twenty-three percent of subjects were currently
dieting, and 69% had engaged in previous diets.
Subjects were tested in small groups of 3 to 5 women and asked to complete
several questionnaires, including the DBS, questions about age, weight, height,
and dieting history, the Restraint Scale (Herman &. Polivy, 1980), a self-esteem
questionnaire (Rosenberg, 1965), the Binge Scale (Hawkins <St Clement, 1980),
the four-item WLOC scale (Saltzer, 1982), and the Marlowe-Crowne Social
Desirability Scale (Crowne &. Marlowe, 1960). Self-perception of having a
weight problem was assessed by the question, "Do you see yourself as having a
and Highest Reported
% BMÍ > 25
% BMI > 27.3
DIETING BELIEFS SCALE 197
weigbt problem?" Subjects responded on a 10-point scale, ranging from not at all
(1) to serious problem (10). Confidence in reaching goal weigbt was measured on
a 10-point scale ranging from not at all confident (1) to very confident (10).
Self-rating of success at previous dieting attempts was measured on a 10-point
scale ranging from not at all successful (1) to very successful (10).
To examine the stability of the DBS, subjects were asked to fill out the DBS
a second time about 6 weeks later. Forty-three subjects who could be located and
were willing to participate were included in this analysis.
Item-total correlations (with the item removed from the total) and coefficient
alpha were computed to examine internal consistency. Of the 16 items, 13 bad
item-total correlations of .2 or greater. Cronbach's alpha was .68. Deleting the
four items witb lowest item-total correlations improved alpha only slightly
(Cronbach's alpha = .69), so all items were retained for further analyses.
Test-retest reliability over approximately 6 weeks (N = 43) was .81.
A principal-components factor analysis conducted to examine the dimensional
structure of the DBS. Three factors with eigenvalues greater tban 1.0 were
retained and subjected to varimax rotation. These three factors together ac-
counted for 46.2% of the variance (Factor 1, 18.4%, Factor 2, 15.7%; Factor 3,
12.1%). The factor loadings of the three rotated factors are presented in Table 3.
Six items bad factor loadings greater tban .40 for the first factor. These items
appeared to reflect beliefs that weight is under the control of internal factors
(e.g., willpower, effort, responsibility). Tbe five items loading above .40 on tbe
second factor concerned beliefs about properties of the individual that are
beyond his or her control (e.g., luck, genes, fate). Four items had factor weights
exceeding .40 for the third factor. These items appeared to reflect beliefs that
weight control is a function of environmental factors (e.g., encouragement from
other people, fattening food). Thus, both Factors 2 and 3 appeared to measure
external beliefs, but items loading highly on Factor 2 included aspects of the
individual outside her control (e.g., genes), whereas those loading highly on
Factor 3 described uncontrollable circumstances outside of the individual (e.g.,
encouragement firom others). It should be noted tbat because of the scoring
format, high scores on Factors 2 and 3 represent a rejection of the importance of
198 STOTLAND AND ZUROFF
DBS Factor Loadings After Varimax Rotation
Item Factor I Factor 2 Factor 3
Note: Items loading greater than .40 on a factor are indicated by an asterisk.
Relation to Saltzer's (1982) WLOC Scale
The DBS total score correlated .62 with the four-item WLOC scale. WLOC also
correlated .30 with Factor 1, .61 with Factor 2, and .22 with Factor 3. All
correlations were significant (p < .01). Because WLOC correlates most strongly
with Factor 2, it is reasonable to assume that WLOC primarily measures the
rejection of uncontrollable factors within the individual as causes of being
Relations to Weight-Related Variables
The relations between DBS total and factor scores, WLOC, and weight-related
variables are shown in Table 4. DBS total and WLOC have similar patterns of
correlations, demonstrating significant relations with BMI, dieting, lifetime
dieting, and self-ratings of success at previous dieting. WLOC is also signifi-
cantly related to retrospective reports of weight loss and confidence in one's
ability to reach current weight-loss goals. In examining the relations to factor
scores, it appears that Factor 1 is related to present weight (BMI) and currently
being on a diet, whereas Factors 2 and 3 are related to ratings of previous dieting
success and current confidence in reaching weight-loss goals. Factor 2 is also
significantly related to retrospective reports of weight loss. The significant
DIETING BELIEFS SCALE 199
Relations Between Weight Locus of ContTol and Weight/Dieting Variables
reaching goal weight'
•n = 99. \ = 100. 'n = 23. ""n = 69.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
relation between Factor 1 and BMI suggests that the increased tendency to diet
associated with this factor may be related more to dissatisfaction with one's
weight than to confidence in succeeding at weight loss.
Relations to Psychological Variables
The relations between DBS total and factor scores, WLOC, and psychological
variables are presented in Table 5. It was predicted that weight locus of control
would be related to greater experience and success in dieting, less binge eating,
and higher self-esteem. The results partially support these predictions but are
clarified by an examination of DBS factors. WLOC and DBS total are signifi-
cantly related to the self-perception of degree of weight problem, whereas only
Relations Between Weight Locus of Control and Psychological Variables
of weight problem"
'n = 99. ""n = 95. 'n = 91. ''n = 100. 'n = 90.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
200 STOTLAND AND ZUROFF
Factor 1 is related to this variable. DBS total and Factor 1 are significantly
related to restraint. Factor 1 is also related to the Weight Fluctuation factor of
the Restraint scale (r = .28, p < .01). WLOC and Factor 3 are significantly
related to self-esteem. Response to the question, "Do you ever binge eat (i.e., eat
in an excessive uncontrolled manner)?" was significantly related to Factor 1 (r =
.21, p < .05). Thus the pattern that emerges when the factors are examined is
that Factor 1 is related to negative expectancies and experiences with weight
control, whereas Factors 2 and 3 are related to positive expectancies. An
additional finding was that social desirability was significantly related to WLOC
(r = .29, p < .01) but not to DBS.
The 16-item DBS demonstrated moderate internal consistency and high
test-retest reliability. Factor analysis suggested the presence of three readily
interpretable factors, an internal factor and two external factors. The DBS
correlated highly with Saltzer's (1982) four-item WLOC scale; Factor 2 was
particularly highly correlated with the WLOC.
The global measures of weight locus of control, the WLOC, and the new
Dieting Beliefs Scale, were significantly related to several weight-related and
psychological variables in college women. More internal scores on the WLOC
were positively related to body mass, likelihood of being on a diet, confidence in
reaching goal weight, retrospective reports of weight loss, self-perception of
success at previous diets, self-perception of weight problem, self-esteem, and
social desirability. Individuals with higher internal scores on this scale thus
perceived a need to lose weight and reported confidence in their ability to do so.
This attitude is consistent with reports of higher general self-esteem. The
positive correlation with social desirability suggests that the weight-control
beliefs represented in the WLOC describe a culturally approved attitude: That
is, women are expected to demonstrate control over eating and weight. How-
ever, WLOC demonstrated some ability to predict dieting success in a previous
study (Saltzer, 1982) and was related to self-reports of previous dieting success in
our study. Internal weight locus of control on the DBS was related to body mass,
dieting, self-perception of success at previous diets, self-perception of weight
problem, and cognitive restraint. High scorers on this scale appear to be more
concerned about their weight and more active in attempting to control it.
Global measures of weight locus of control thus appear to reflect a high level of
concern with one's weight. A difference between WLOC and the DBS is that
WLOC is more related to confidence in weight control and to reports of
previous weight loss. The two scales appear to be measuring somewhat different
aspects of the weight-locus-of-control construct. The difference between the
scales is clarified by an examination of the factor structure of the DBS.
DIETING BELIEFS SCALE 201
Examination of relations between BMI and the DBS factors indicated that
only the relation with Factor 1 was significant. Thus, heavier subjects were more
likely to endorse internal beliefs about weight. Factor 1 also demonstrated
significant correlations with tendency to diet (present and lifetime), and with the
Weight Fluctuation factor of the Restraint scale. This suggests that individuals
scoring highly on Factor 1 have had more experience than most in losing (and
gaining) weight. Factor 1 also correlated significantly with the self-perception of
having a weight problem and the tendency to binge eat. Those scoring high on
this factor were heavier and had negative feelings about their weight, which may
have contributed to the feeling that they "should" diet and "should" be able to
control their weight and to the adoption of internal beliefs about weight control.
Interestingly, Factor 1 was not related to ratings of success at previous diets or to
confidence in reaching goal weight. Thus, Factor 1 was related to the tendency
to diet, periodic fluctuations in weight, and negative feelings about one's weight
but not to success at dieting or weight control.
Factor 2, which seemed to represent the rejection of factors within the
individual but outside volitional control, was not related to BMI or dieting
tendency; however, it was significantly and positively related to ratings of
success at previous diets and to retrospective reports of weight loss. Factor 3
appeared to refiect the rejection of the belief that external factors are responsible
for weight. This factor was not related to BMI or dieting tendency but was
significantly related to confidence in reaching goal weight, ratings of success at
previous diets, and self-esteem. Thus, Factors 2 and 3 had fairly similar patterns
of association with the other variables of concern. In contrast to Factor 1, these
factors seem to refiect positive expectancies and experiences in weight control.
Unidimensional measures of weight locus of control suggested that internals
were more positive about the prospects for weight control. This is consistent
with the view of previous authors who attempted to predict weight-loss success
with locus of control. That line of research produced an unsatisfying pattern of
results and little evidence that locus of control was a useful predictor of success
at weight loss. Our results suggest that weight locus of control is best thought of
as a multidimensional construct. Future research attempting to predict weight
loss should examine its relation with the three factors of the DBS.
It appears that certain types of weight-related locus of control beliefs are
associated with negative self-image and "guilty" (though not necessarily success-
ful) dieting, whereas other beliefs are related to positive expectancies about
dieting. This suggests that treatment programs for obesity should attempt to
modify extreme internal weight locus of control beliefs, because these beliefs may
be related to the kind of perfectionistic approach to dieting thought to predis-
pose one to dietary breakdown (cf. Polivy &. Herman, 1987). In addition,
treatment programs should encourage the patterns of beliefs refiected in Factors
2 and 3.
Some limitation of the present findings should be mentioned. The factor
202 STOTLAND AND ZUROFF
structure of the DBS needs to be cross validated in an additional sample. It will
also be important to examine, prospectively, its ability to predict dieting
behavior and success in weight control. Finally, it is unknown whether these
findings will generalize outside a college population.
Our sample was composed primarily of normal-weight women. The high
prevalence of dieting in this sample, consistent witb previous findings (e.g.,
Dwyer &. Mayer, 1970), appears to be more related to tbe self-perception of
being overweight (probably culturally determined) than to actually being over-
weight. Whether the DBS will demonstrate comparable psycbometric properties
and relations witb dieting and psycbological variables in an overweight sample
remains to be investigated.
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Department of Psychology
1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue
Montreal, Quebec H3A lBl
Received May 10, 1988
Revised August 24, 1988
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