University of Tasmania
whole_CraskeMarie-Louise1990_thesis.pdf (12.24 MB)

Learned helplessness, self-worth protection and attributional retraining for primary school children

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posted on 2023-05-26, 22:25 authored by Craske, Marie-Louise
This series of three studies examines the effectiveness of an attributional retraining program for primary school children, whose performance is detrimentally affected by failure. One explanation for impaired performances after failure suggests that students who attribute lack of success to inability become academically helpless. This approach, with its roots in learned helplessness theory and Weiner's theory of achievement motivation, predicts a 'successful outcome from attributtonal retraining programs which encourage students to attribute academic successes and failures to the presence or absence of effort. A second explanation suggests that some students perform more poorly after failure because they 'give up' in order to protect a sense of self-worth. This is threatened when failure occurs in conjunction with high levels of effort. It is predicted that effort attributional retraining will not influence the performance of students motivated by such considerations. The first experiment aimed to improve the persistence of Grade 5 and 6 children who displayed helpless behaviour on a puzzle completion task. Attributional retraining involved observation of a model who was rewarded for attributing outcomes to effort. At post-testing, increased persistence was found in female, but not male subjects. One possible explanation for the sex difference is that the males were not helpless but were motivated to protect selfworth and were therefore not willing to expend effort when failure was likely. In the second experiment, the effectiveness of training was compared for two groups of upper primary school children identified as either helpless or self-worth motivated. Before training both groups showed impaired performance after failure on an arithmetic task. In addition, the latter group demonstrated an improvement in performance in response to a mitigating circumstance, (a description of the task as 'very difficult'), which could explain failure without implicating low ability as the cause. As predicted, effort attributional retraining, this time using a participant modelling technique, innoculated the helpless group against failure, and resulted in an increased emphasis on effort and decreased emphasis on ability in accounting for failures. In the self-worth group, there was no change in performance after failure or in ability attributions after training, although there was an increased emphasis on effort. The effectiveness of the participant modelling procedure was further established in a third experiment, in which helpless students again appeared to be innoculated against failure. This effect was maintained over a two week post-training period, and there is some evidence that Improved performance generalised to an anagram task. The results are discussed in terms of the effective components of attributional retraining programs, and implications for the alternative explanations for impaired performance after failure.


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Copyright 1989 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Bibliography: leaves 192-216. Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1990

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