The Psychological Underpinnings of Cyber Burnout



A way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression

Our perceptions shape the way we approach each and every obstacle and opportunity that comes our way.  Two people can perceive circumstances in a completely different way, wherein one individual becomes energized and the other, overwhelmed and defeated by the task at hand.  The difference in these reactions can be boiled down to the expectation of success or failure.

Perceptions are unique to each individual based in large part of one’s locus of control.

locus of control

an individual’s generalized expectancies regarding the forces that determine rewards and punishments

Locus of control is characterized into two realms, internal or external.

internal v external

Internal: will attribute the failure to meet a desired goal due to poor personal preparation

External: will attribute failure due to circumstances beyond the individual’s control. 


Control is applicable to the events and situations we encounter on a daily basis.  One either feels they have control over an event, or they lack control.

Controllable event: when a person’s voluntary responses have an impact on the consequences of that event.

Examples: the time one wakes up, the speed ones drives, the amount of money one spends

Uncontrollable event: when no voluntary response has an impact on the event. 

Examples: the death of a loved one, natural disasters, world events

An individual’s perception of their control over many of life’s events is tied closely to one’s self-efficacy beliefs, defined as the belief’s one holds about his or her capacities to perform the behaviors necessary for success.  If an individual believes he or she holds the capacities for success, he or she will be far more motivated to undertake a particular activity and strive to meet the goal.  On the other hand, if a person does not feel they have the ability to perform the task in front of them successfully, they are not only far less motivated to perform the task, but also far less likely to succeed in meeting the goal.

In other words, if individuals believe they have control over future events, then they will attempt to exert that control in order to achieve a positive outcome.

It is irrelevant if a particular outcome is or is not attainable, the perception of control determines if one will try to attain it.


Goal- perform an internal and external security audit

Option 1: if one believe that it is in his or his control to meet this goal, he or she will try his or her best to succeed and utilize various strategies, even if the odds are against them

Option 2: if one does not believe it is under their control to be able to conduct a successful security audit or is limited in strategy and tools, he or she may quiet, perform with lackluster results, and be less motivated on the job overall.

As the example highlights, locus of control has a significant impact on how an individual’s expectations shape the goals he or she set forth as well as their motivation for reaching those goals.  As these types of experiences compound, or in other words, are reinforced, it can profoundly effects the path of how one’s unfolds.  For example, experiences of repeated uncontrollably can lead to the expectation that future events will also be uncontrollable, leading to feelings of learned helplessness and depression.

Thus, according to this theory, depressed individuals differ from non-depressed persons in that they tend to expect to be unable to control events.

internal v external chart

reinforcement theory

Reinforcement theory: a psychological principle maintaining that behaviors are shaped by their consequences and that, accordingly, individual behaviors can be changed through rewards and punishments.

Life’s experiences profoundly shape how one’s locus of control develops through past reinforcement history.  A reinforcement is a consequence that immediately follows an event and induces either a positive or negative stimulus, thereby increasing or decreasing the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated again.  Thus, individuals who have a history of successful attempts at a certain behavior are more likely to attribute this success to their own skills and abilities, and be internally motivated to complete that behavior again, based off of their past successful attempts.   

In such, one’s reinforcement history directly effects successful completion of tasks at hand.  Those who have had reoccurring positive reinforcements will naturally subscribe their successes to their own internal strengths, and are more likely to perform better and for longer periods on the task at hand.  On the other hand, those who experience reoccurring negative experiences will attribute any type of success to an outside control, such as luck or the assistance of another and are more prone to perform worse on tasks, as well as stop working on the current task and switch to a new one.

attribution training

“Attribution theory deals with how the social perceiver uses information to arrive at causal explanations for events.  It examines what information is gathered and how it is combined to form a causal judgment”.

-Fiske and Taylor (1991, p. 23)

How one perceives the information and messages they receive from the outside world is variable from person to person.  Wherein one individual will attribute their successes or failures to internal forces, the other is the opposite and holds the responsibility of success or failure outside of themselves.

Attribution training works off of the basis that one’s internal locus of control can be strengthened and in turn, increase motivation and task persistence.  This is accomplished through the utilization of self-instructional and self-enhancing statements that are meant to train the brain to a state of internal control of thoughts and behaviors and takes a simple, self-taught training that is easy to implement and requires no special materials:

  1. Students are taught to say “this is tough, but hard work pays off” or “I did a good job on that one,” first OUT LOUD
  2. then in a WHISPER

If people feel like they have no control over future outcomes, they are less motivated and likely to seek solutions to their problems.  On the other hand, if workers are taught to believe in their own ability to control their lives and the reinforcements in their lives, they are more likely to succeed in both the task at hand and in an overall resistant to burn out.


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