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Bernard Weiner’s Attribution Theory Barbara Slater Stern, Ed. D. Secondary Education Program EDUC 640 James Madison University Purpose: Attribution theory addresses the ways individuals arrive at causal explanations and the implications of those beliefs. In other words, attribution theory examines behavior and tries to answer “why?” Thus, this is a theory of motivation as opposed to learning. Principles: Views people from their search to understand and to achieve personal fulfillment Thus, the focus is on the relationship among achievement-related outcomes Causal beliefs Subsequent emotions and activities Assumptions The search for understanding is a primary motivator of action Attributions (causal explanations) are complex sources of information about behavior Future behavior is determined, in part, by the perceived causes of prior behavior. Three Dimensions of attributions Dimension Description Personal Social Domain Domain Locus of cause Internal/ Ability internal Personal trait external Luck external Someone else’s “stuff” Stability Constancy or Ability is stable Phys. durability Effort unstable Attractiveness is stable, desired object is busy/unstable Controllability Perceived Effort is Hyperactivity seen attribute can or controllable as controllable, cannot be Ability is shyness seen as controlled by the uncontrollable uncontrollable. individual Dimensions of Major Attributes Stabili Locus Causal Controll ty of ity ability Attribution Stable Unstable Internal Exter- Control- Uncon- nal lable trollable ability x x x effort x x x Task difficulty x x x luck x x x Mood, illness x x x Help from others x x x Emotions Generated by Causal Linkages Positive Outcomes Internal cause – feelings of pride and self- esteem Controllable cause- feelings of confidence Stable cause- maximizes feelings of pride, self-worth, and confidence Uncontrollable/external cause- feelings of gratitude. Con’t Negative outcomes Internal cause- feelings of embarrassment, guilt, and shame Controllable cause- feelings of guilt Stable cause- maximizes emotions of shame, apathy, and resignation associated with internal, controllable causes Uncontrollable/external cause- feelings of anger Properties of achievement attributions Attribution Dimension Consequence Ability internal Competence or incompetence; pride or shame stable Pride or shame magnified Failure=resignation/apathy uncontrollable Failure= resignation/apathy magnified effort internal Pride in success unstable Does not decrease success expectancy controllable Magnifies pride or guilt Luck external Self-image not altered unstable No decrease in success expectancy uncontrollable Surprise at either success or failure Con’t Attribution Dimension Consequence Help from external Self-image not altered others unstable No decrease in success expectancy uncontrollable Gratitude for help Anger for hindrance Task difficulty external No enhancement of self-esteem for success outcome stable Same outcome expected again uncontrollable Depression and frustration for failure outcomes Note: For junior high/middle school students, interest or lack of interest appear to be the main attributions for success or failure. Teacher Reactions To the best of his/her ability, the teacher wants students to attribute causes to internal, stable, controllable factors such as: Effort Perseverance Hard Work Trying Perceptions of behaviors Hyperactivity, bragging and rule- breaking are perceived as controllable thereby eliciting anger and dislike Shyness and physical disabilities are perceived as uncontrollable and elicit sympathy Thus, children react to peers based on their perceptions: correct or incorrect. Learned Helplessness Individuals with low self-concept experiencing few successes: Attribute failure to lack of ability See no relationship between their success and their actions Mastery-Oriented Children Acknowledge errors but do not view them as failures by attributing this to unstable factors. Maintain strategies in face of failure and often increase sophistication in these strategies. Unflagging optimism Thus, these children, unlike the helpless ones, see themselves as instrumental in becoming successful Summary Teacher expectation of performance and verbal/body language cues effect student attribution. Thus, proactive classrooms structure tasks that meet the needs of low achievers by creating opportunities for success at challenging tasks.(co-operative learning is one such structure) Con’t Teachers need to be LEARNING oriented instead of performance oriented. Intelligence is seen as dynamic (not fully stable) Grades are related to learning (criterion) rather than normative (relational) Con’t Errors are seen as part of learning rather than as failure Attribution to lack of effort rather than lack of ability Meta-cognitive skills are taught Risk-taking is valued and rewarded Tasks are challenging but broken into steps that can be accomplished well.
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