Julian Rotter

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Julian Rotter
BornOctober 22, 1916
DiedJanuary 6, 2014(2014-01-06) (aged 97)
Alma materIndiana University
Known forsocial learning theory, Rotter Incomplete Sentence Blank and Locus of Control
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Connecticut
InfluencesKurt Lewin, Alfred Adler, Kenneth Spence, Clark Hull, B.F. Skinner, Edward Tolman and George Kelly
InfluencedWalter Mischel

Julian B. Rotter (October 22, 1916 – January 6, 2014) was an American psychologist known for developing influential theories, including social learning theory and locus of control. He was a faculty member at The Ohio State University and then the University of Connecticut. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Rotter as the 64th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[1]


Rotter was born in 1916 in Brooklyn, New York, United States,[2] as the third son of Jewish immigrant parents.[3] In the years of elementary and secondary schools, he became interested with psychology and philosophy through readings.[4] Rotter attended Brooklyn College in 1933, where he earned his undergraduate degree. He majored in Chemistry even though he found psychology to be more fascinating due to the fact that there were more opportunities to make money, while the economy was failing.[4] While studying in Brooklyn College, Wood and Solomon Asch, teachers at the college, influenced his development as a psychologist. Wood inspired him by his lectures on the scientific method. Asch was intensely involved in the controversy between Gestalt and Thorndykian views of learning and thus he influenced Rotter's interest in psychology.[4] He then earned a master's degree at the University of Iowa, studying there under Kurt Lewin.[3]

After he earned his master's degree at the University of Iowa, he was able to obtain an internship at the Worcester State Hospital. At the time it may have been the only formal internship in psychology. While at Worcester State Hospital, David Shakow, Saul Rosenzweig, and Elliot Rodnick provided stimulation and training in research and practice in clinical psychology. Worcester was also where he met Clara Barnes, another intern whom he later married. Through his work with Kurt Lewin, he became interested with a level of aspiration. Worcester was also where he had designed and built the Level of Aspiration Board as an individual personality measure. He continued his work at the Indiana University where he encountered success and failure using the level of aspiration paradigms at Indiana University; he earned a doctorate at Indiana in 1941. Through his education, Rotter was influenced by Alfred Adler, Clark Hull, B.F. Skinner, and Edward Tolman.[4][5] He was influenced by Wendell Johnson, a general semanticist, who impressed on him the need for careful definitions in psychology and the myriad of pitfalls involved in poorly defined and poorly operationalized constructs [6] In 1963, Rotter moved to the University of Connecticut, and became the director of clinical training. The Interpersonal Trust Scale, a research measure of the stable individual difference in personality, was developed by Rotter around that time.[7]

After earning his doctorate, Rotter became an adviser to the United States Army during World War II. In the Army, Rotter worked as a psychologist, except for 17 weeks in officer candidate training as a tank officer.[8] He then went to Ohio State University, where he taught and served as the chairman of the clinical psychology program. At Ohio State, Rotter was influenced by George Kelly. Rotter then went to the University of Connecticut, where he remained for his career.[5] Rotter was also appointed as president of the American Psychological Association Division of Clinical Psychology, the Eastern Psychological Association, as well as the American Psychology Association Division of Social and Personality Psychology.[9]

Rotter's seminal work, Social Learning and Clinical Psychology was published in 1954. In 1963, he became the Program Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of Connecticut.

He died at the age of 97 on January 6, 2014 at his home in Mansfield, Connecticut.[10][11]

Social learning theory[edit]

Rotter moved away from theories based on psychoanalysis and behaviourism, and developed a social learning theory. In Social Learning and Clinical Psychology (1954), Rotter suggested that the expected effect or outcome of the behavior influences the motivation of people to engage in that behavior. People wish to avoid negative consequences, while desiring positive results or effects. If one expects a positive outcome from a behavior, or thinks there is a high probability of a positive outcome, then they will be more likely to engage in the behavior. The behavior is reinforced, with positive outcomes, leading a person to repeat the behavior. This social learning theory suggests that behavior is influenced by social context or environmental factors, and not psychological factors alone.[12]

Locus of control[edit]

In 1966, Rotter published his famous I-E scale in the journal "Psychological Monographs", to assess internal and external locus of control. This scale has been widely used in the psychology of personality, although its use of a two-alternative forced choice technique has made it subject to criticism. Rotter himself was astounded by how much attention this scale generated, claiming that it was like lighting a cigarette and seeing a forest fire.[5] He himself believed that the scale was an adequate measure of just two concepts, achievement motivation (which he took to be linked with internal locus of control) and outer-directedeness, or tendency to conform to others (which he took to be associated with external locus of control). Critics of the scale have frequently voiced concern that locus of control is not as homogenous a concept as Rotter believed.[13] According to him the locus of control of an individual's behavior in the case of 'propagation' lies within the individual whereas it lies outside the individual in the case of 'conversion'. (Clearly depicting how religious propagation is different from religious conversion)


Rotter has been reported as one of the most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. He was 18th in frequency of citations in journal articles and 64th in overall eminence.[14] His seminal studies of the variable of internal versus external locus of control provided the foundation of prolific research into choice and perceived control in several disciplines. His pioneer social learning framework transformed behavioural approaches to personality and clinical psychology.[8]

He had two children after marrying Clara Barnes, whom he had met at Worcester State. Rotter was married from 1941 until his wife died in 1985.[2]


  1. ^ Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Renee; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; Powell, John L., III; Beavers, Jamie; Monte, Emmanuelle (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century". Review of General Psychology. 6 (2): 139–52. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139.
  2. ^ a b Julian Rotter at Fullerton.edu accessed 13 December 2007
  3. ^ a b Millon (2004), p. 353
  4. ^ a b c d "Julian B. Rotter". American Psychologist. 44: 625–626. 1989. doi:10.1037/h0092100.
  5. ^ a b c Weiner (1980), p. 237
  6. ^ McGuire, W.J.; Padawer-Singer, A. (1976). "Trait salience in the spontaneous self-concept". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 33: 743–754. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.33.6.743.
  7. ^ AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST V. 44 (4), 04/1989, p. 625
  8. ^ a b American Psychologist (April 1989), 44 (4), pg. 625-626
  9. ^ George Sperling "Julian B. Rotter", American Psychologist, April 19, 1989
  10. ^ http://today.uconn.edu/blog/2012/08/theories-of-emeritus-professor-julian-rotter-still-relevant-to-field-of-clinical-psychology/
  11. ^ "Professor Emeritus of Psychology Julian Rotter dies". University of Connecticut. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  12. ^ Rotter (1954)
  13. ^ Rotter (1966)
  14. ^ Haggbloom, S. J. et al. (2002). The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. Review of General Psychology, 6,139-152. cited at Fullerton


  • "American Psychologist Julian B. Rotter". Missing or empty |url= (help)
  • "Julian B. Rotter". American Psychologist. 44: 625–626 (whole no. 609). 1989. doi:10.1037/h0092100.
  • Mearns, Jack. "The Social Learning Theory of Julian B. Rotter". California State University, Fullerton. Retrieved 2007-12-11.
  • Millon, Theodore (2004). Masters of the Mind. John Wiley and Sons.
  • Rotter, J. B. (1954). Social Learning and Clinical Psychology. Prentice-Hall.
  • Rotter, J.B. (1966). "Generalized expectancies of internal versus external control of reinforcements". Psychological Monographs. 80 (whole no. 609).
  • Rotter, J. B. (1993). "Expectancies". In C. E. Walker (ed.). The history of clinical psychology in autobiography (vol. II). Brooks/Cole. pp. 273–284.
  • Weiner, Bernard (1980). Human Motivation: Metaphors, Theories, and Research. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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