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Attribution, Motivation and Self-Esteem

Dr. Jim Nolan Academic Advising Conference 10/4/07

Attribution Theory (Weiner)


People naturally seek to understand and explain why events occur as they do. This is true for events that happen to them as well as to others ( especially negative and unexpected outcomes)
Event Outcome >Affective reaction> cognitive mediation (search for understanding why)>impact on motivation and self-esteem

Common Causal Attributions


Ability Effort (quantitative and qualitative) Task Difficulty Luck Others

Properties of Attributions
Locus- refers to the location of a cause as internal to the person or external? (Locus of Control) Controllability- to what degree is the factor under the persons control? (Locus of Control) Stability- refers to the duration of a cause. To what degree to will factor will vary from event to event?

Properties of Common Attributions


Factor* Ability Effort Task Difficulty Luck Other People Locus Internal Internal External Stability Controllability Stable (rel.) Uncont rollable (rel.) Variable Cont rollable Stable Uncont rollable Uncont rollable Uncont rollable

External Variable External Variable *Perception is the key

Factors Influencing Attributions


Consensus information (performance of others) impacts the locus dimension Social norms (cultural and peer group influence) impacts locus and controllability dimensions Consistency with past performance impacts the stability dimension Some studies indicate that gender appears to impact controllability (females- success not to ability and failure to ability) Students with a history of poor performance are more likely to attribute success to external causes and failure to a lack of ability than successful students. As a general rule, we are usually more willing to ascribe success to internal causes than failure (hedonic bias)

Consequences of Attributions
Intrapersonal dimensions- the individuals own attributions for event outcomes
Interpersonal dimension- other peoples attributions for the outcomes experienced by another (teachers, advisers, parents)

Intrapersonal Attribution Consequences- Motivation


Directly related to Expectancy X Value theory of motivation Expectancy- belief that one can do what is necessary to achieve a desired outcome Value- pull or strength of positive outcome vs. risk of negative outcome Multiplication is a key concept- x times 0 = 0

Intrapersonal Attribution Consequences- Motivation


Attributions to stable factors (ability vs. effort) impact Expectancy more significantly. (self-fulfilling prophecies) Attributions to non-controllable factors create Expectancy that one has little control over reaching the desired goal and decrease motivation. (learned helplessness) Attributions to controllable factors create Expectancy that one has control over possibility of reaching goal and in crease motivation (positive sense of efficacy)

Intrapersonal Attribution Consequences- Self-Esteem


ABCGs of Self- Esteem Autonomy (Power) Belonging (Significance) Competence (Mastery) Generosity (Virtue)

Intrapersonal Attribution Consequences-Self-Esteem


Internal causality leads to feelings toward self - pride, accomplishment, guilt, shame, selfpity. Connected to competence and autonomy needs External causality -leads to feelings toward others- gratitude, anger, solidarity Connected to belonging and generosity needs

An Example
Student A does poorly on her first round of exams. Attributes poor performance to ability (internal and uncontrollable) Leads to low expectancy for future performance and decreases motivation and feelings of competence and autonomy

A Second Example
Student B does poorly on her first set of exams Attributes poor performance to lack of appropriate effort (internal, controllable) Leads to guilt and expectation that the outcome can be changed- increased motivation, decreased competence, increased autonomy

A Third Example
Student C does poorly on her first round of exams Attributes it to faculty bias against athletes ( external and uncontrollable) Leads to low expectations for future and anger - decreases motivation but protects self-esteem

Interpersonal Attribution Consequences


Our attributions for the causes of outcomes that happen to others (students, advisees, children, etc.) create perceptions of responsibility Our perceptions of responsibility mediate between the outcomes and our emotional reaction to the person

Interpersonal Attribution Consequences


Attributions to controllable causes (effort) Lead to the perception that the individual is responsible for the outcome Leading to feelings of anger, joy, disappointment, pride, frustration, etc. Leading to desires to reward/punish

Interpersonal Attribution Consequences


Attributions to non-controllable causes Lead to perceptions of nonresponsibility Leading to feelings of surprise, sympathy, pity, Leading to prosocial reactions (empathy, helping)

Implications for Advising


Helping students understand attribution theory Working to get the attributions right (career decisionmaking) vs. Working on productive attributions for success and failure with students (performance aspect) Helping students cope with the motivational and selfesteem impact of intrapersonal attributions Monitoring our own interpersonal attributions for outcomes for our advisees and our consequent behaviors

References
Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M.& Van Bockern, S. (1990) Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future. Bloomington, IN: National Education Service. Osterman, K.E. (2000) Students needs for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research 70 (3), 323-67.

References
Weiner, B, (1992) Human motivation: Metaphors, theories and research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications Weiner, B. (2000) Intrapersonal and interpersonal theories of motivation from an attributional perspective. Educational Psychology Review 64, 557-573.