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Behavioral Dimensions and Hazardous Thought Patterns


Accidents are an undeniable part of life, and some individuals with certain personality traits seem to be more accident-prone. For example, Powell, Hale, Martin, and Simon (1971) found that extraverts are significantly more prone to accidents than others; Clarke and Robertson (2011) hypothesized that low conscientiousness is associated with accident involvement; and some studies have found a positive relationship between neuroticism and accidents (Hansen, 1989).

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The literature is rich in data regarding any possible correlation between personality traits and accident involvement (e.g. Dillinger, Wiegmann, and Taneja, 2003 in aviation; Ferreira, Martinez, and Guisande, 2009 for road accidents and students; Manheimer and Mellinger, 1997 for accident-prone children; and Nabi, Consoli, Chiron, Lafont, Chastang, Zins, and Lagarde, 2006 for a correlation between aggression/hostility and injury accidents).

But the body of literature is contradictory and confusing (Clarke, et al, 2011; Stewart, 2006), and there is no clear picture of what unique behavioral dimensions underlie hazardous patterns. Stewart (2006) suggested that the unique behavioral dimension underlies hazardous thought patterns, using archival records, as opposed to self-report, and this study intends to do so.

Accident prevention and avoidance are important to drivers and pedestrians, aircrew and their passengers, employers and workers, among others. Understanding what unique behavioral dimensions are behind hazardous thought patterns may help create a better understanding of the propensity of certain individuals and personality types to be more or less accident-prone, and possibly develop a test instrument and design a training method to counteract these behavior traits in favor of accident awareness, avoidance, and prevention.

Personality as a definition avoided a definitive taxonomy, and therein lies part of the problem (Clarke and Robertson, 2011). Studies have inconsistent definitions and descriptions of personality, thus results and concluding data are inconsistent and confusing (Clarke, et al). The Big Five personality factors (McCrae and Costa, 1990), the 16 Personality Factors (Cattell, 1946), and even the premise of using personality as a situational state as opposed to a dispositional trait (Stewart, 2006) have been used as determinants in prior studies regarding accident involvement, with mixed results.

The present report will perform a factor-analysis study of accidents, using personality as a moderator, and using historical records and not self-reports.

How does the belief of being in control affect behavioral patterns? There is a need to use archival methods of accident recordings as opposed to reliance on self-reports. If this is not taken into account, nothing else will be learned (Sanders et al., 1976). This will be essential in determining the unique dimensions of behavior underlying thought patterns that are unquestioningly hazardous. It is socially desirable to have a personal control sense in every undertaking.

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Training programs with an objective and intention to foster a sense of control can positively influence individual performance, as well as instill an expectation of control. This is evident whenever we conduct an examination of the recent study on overconfidence with a focus on biased optimism. The sense of control of each and every person is expectedly realistic and appropriate to the situation (Clarke and Robertson, 2011). This should be clearly stated.

It is unfortunate that there is little research incorporated into most LOC analyses that looks at overconfidence as having fatal consequences. It has not been looked upon in a long-term perspective in terms of changes. This is especially relative when an individual reaches high levels of mastery in a job and manages to get enough experience. Consequently, personal control could be maladaptive in case there are high expectations.

Moderate levels of LOC were observed among school-going children with a more adaptive approach (Anderson, Hattie & Hamilton, 2005). Rotter (1966) states that despite internals being better adjusted in terms of psychology than the externals, there is the likelihood that the extremists in internal control are maladjusted just as those holding externality beliefs. The general concept of internality continues to get less attention from research specialists.

There has always been much speculation on how accidents in aviation and pilot overconfidence are related. This is inclusive of high-time pilots with the risk being touted as one of the major contributing factors to air accidents. It is a common feature in aviation when proficient pilots get into accidents even after being in the practice for some considerable time. An illusion of being invulnerable might appear to be a critical point that leads to accidents. The statement here seems to be that there is another factor other than experience and skill that serves as the predictor of the safety of a pilot. It is a general assumption that a highly proficient pilot is better in aircraft control than a less-proficient one.

In an exclusively documented monograph, Dunning and Suls (2004) showed the concept of being pervasive in overconfidence and having illusions in control across institutions. It is evident that there has been little research on the exploration of different individuals and how they interface in terms of illusion control. There is existing evidence of perceived control being a key mediator in anyone’s optimistic bias (Helweg-Larsen & Shepperd, 2001).

Klein and Helweg-Larsen also conducted an analysis consisting of 21 studies. This was an exploration of the relationship between illusion personal control and optimistic bias. The findings indicated that control has a significant impact on risk perception. It also indicated that those who believe that they can control negative occurrences and limit or curtail their happening have self believe in being less at risk than many others. There happens to be very little evidence on how LOC mediates biases. This is despite the fact that there exists a lot of evidence on illusion control as well as overconfidence being major biases in the society of today, especially in the West.

Does the feeling of being in control affect how individuals approach what they practice? There is always the concept of invulnerability that is closely connected to personal control expectancy. There is actually a lot of evidence that people have a tendency to systematically distort the degree of control they possess in case of successful outcomes (Alloy, Abrahamson & Viscusi, 1981). This is common for people who experienced repeated success in a specific area. Seemingly, the distortions resulting from the control illusion, as well as LOC are all parts of a learning process.

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The ultimate goal of the foregoing review and analysis of LOC is to demonstrate that the performance of individuals is connected to applications of such constructs in the social psychological research literature. The skills acquired are dependent on the development of some sense of being in control. It is evident that it is possible for individuals to get into trouble whenever they overestimate or have an illusion of being in control of a situation to the point of overconfidence. Little has been stated on the probable consequences of this overconfidence or extreme internality despite all the extensive research conducted on the LOC construct.

Extreme internals assumes that after managing to fly through the storm, they should be able to navigate through this again under similar circumstances. Thus, intensive planning can help the aviation community add to the pilots’ awareness of the hazards associated with this approach and maintain congruency between the feeling of a personal sense of control and the real measure of control.

All the time, an individual strives to achieve a particular goal and get a link between effort and the expected outcome. The systematic distortion in the same direction is achieved after repeated success. With such a conceptualization, there should be a better view of the social learning expectancy origins in the LOC theory. All previous case studies have not revealed much on the need for control to be maintained over time and in particular when faced with repeated failure or success for that matter.

It is somehow unfortunate that most of them have deviated from the close link-up between the expectancy theory and LOC. To demonstrate hypotheses for this theory, criterion measures are required. In the case of factor analysis, it would make sense to instead examine behavioral differences existing in externals as well as internals. The positive result of such research can bring an additional outlook into the connection between LOC and control expectancy theories that are better positioned in change examination.


Alloy, L. B., Abramson, L. Y., & Viscusi, D. (1981). Induced mood and the illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 1129-1140.

Anderson, A., Hattie, J., & Hamilton, R. J. (2005). Locus of control, self-efficacy, and motivation in different schools: Is moderation the key to success? Educational Psychology, 25, 517-535.

Cattell, R. B. (1946). The description and measurement of personality. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, & World.

Clarke, S. & Robertson, I. T. (2011). A meta-analytic review of the Big Five personality factors and accident involvement in occupational and non-occupational settings. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Web.

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Dillinger, T. G., Wiegmann, D. A., & Taneja, N. (2003). Relating Personality with Stress Coping Strategies Among Student Pilots in a Collegiate Flight Training Program. Presented at the 12th International Symposium on Aviation Psychology, Dayton, Ohio.

Dunning, D., Heath, C., & Suls, J. M. (2004). Flawed self-assessment: Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 69-106.

Hansen, C., P. (1989). A causal model of the relationship among accidents, biodata, personality and cognitive factors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74, 81-90.

Helweg-Larsen, M., & Shepperd, J. A. (2001). Do moderators of the optimistic bias affect personal or target risk estimates? A review of the literature. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 74-95.

Klein, C. T. F., & Helweg-Larsen, M. (2002). Perceived control and the optimistic bias: A meta-analytic review. Psychology and Health, 17, 437-446.

Manheimer, D. I., & Mellinger G. D. (1997). Personality characteristics of the child accident repeater. Injury Prevention, 3, 135-145.

McCrae, R. & Costa, P. (1990). Personality in adulthood. New York: The Guildford Press.

Nabi, H., Consoli, S. M., Chiron, M., Lafont, S., Chastang, J. Fr., Zins, M. and Lagarde, E. (2006). Aggressive/hostile personality traits and injury accidents: an eight-year prospective study of a large cohort of French employees. Psychology Medicine, 36(3), 365-373.

Powell, P. I., M. Hale, J. Martin, and M. Simon. (1971). 2000 Accidents: A Shop Floor Study of Their Causes. Report no. 21. London: National Institute of Industrial Psychology.

Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs 80 (1 Whole No. 609).

Sanders, M. G., Halcomb, C. G., Fray, J. M., & Owens, J. M. (1976). Internal-external locus of control and performance on a vigilance task. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 42, 939-943.

Stewart, J. E. (2006). Locus of Control, Attribution Theory, and the “Five Deadly Sins” of Aviation. Technical Report 1182, United States Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.

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